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Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More

The life of the English humanist and statesman Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) exemplifies the political and spiritual upheaval of the Reformation. The author of "Utopia," he was beheaded for opposing the religious policy of Henry VIII.

Thomas More was born in London on Feb. 6, 1478, to parents whose families were connected with the city's legal community. His education began at a prominent London school, St. Anthony's. In 1490 Thomas entered the household of Archbishop John Morton, Henry VII's closest adviser. Service to Morton brought experience of the world, then preferment in 1492 to Oxford, where More first encountered Greek studies. Two years later he returned to London, where legal and political careers were forged. By 1498 More had gained membership in Lincoln's Inn, an influential lawyers' fraternity.

Christian Humanism

A broader perspective then opened. The impact of humanism in England was greatly intensified about 1500, partly by Erasmus's first visit. His biblical interests spurred the work of Englishmen recently back from Italy; they had studied Greek intensively and thus were eager for fresh scrutiny of the Gospel texts and the writings of the early Church Fathers. John Colet's Oxford lectures on the Pauline epistles, and his move in 1504 to London as dean of St. Paul's Cathedral and founder of its famous humanist school, epitomized this reformist, educational activity among English churchmen. Lay patronage of the movement quickly made Cambridge, where Erasmus periodically taught, a focus of biblical scholarship and made London a favored meeting ground for Europe's men of letters.

England thus shed its cultural provincialism, and More, while pursuing his legal career and entering Parliament in 1504, was drawn to the Christian humanist circle. He spent his mid-20s in close touch with London's austere Carthusian monks and almost adopted their vocation. His thinking at this stage is represented by his interest in the Italian philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who had also become increasingly pious when approaching the age of 30 a decade before; More's 1505 translation of Pico's first biography stressed that development.

But More then decided that he could fulfill a Christian vocation while remaining a layman. Both his subsequent family life and public career document the humanist persuasion that Christian service could be done, indeed should be pursued, in the world at large. He first married Jane Colt, who bore three sons and a daughter before dying in 1511, and then Alice Middleton. His household at Bucklersbury, London, until 1524 and then at Chelsea teemed with visitors, such as his great friend Erasmus, and formed a model educational community for the children and servants; More corresponded with his daughters in Latin. His legal career flourished and led to appointment as London's undersheriff in 1511. This meant additional work and revenue as civic counsel at Henry VIII's court and as negotiator with foreign merchants.

More's first official trip abroad, on embassy at Antwerp in 1515, gave him leisure time in which he began his greatest work, Utopia. Modeled on Plato's Republic, written in Latin, finished and published in 1516, it describes an imaginary land, purged of the ostentation, greed, and violence of the English and European scenes that More surveyed. Interpretations of Utopia vary greatly. The dialogue form of book I and Utopia's continual irony suggest More's deliberate ambiguity about his intent. Whatever vision More really professed, Utopia persists and delights as the model for an important literary genre.

Service under Henry VIII

Utopia book I and More's history of Richard III, written during the same period, contain reflections about politics and the problems of counseling princes. They represent More's uncertainty about how to handle frequent invitations to serve Henry VIII, whose policies included many facets distasteful to the humanists. More had written in Utopia: "So it is in the deliberations of monarchs. If you cannot pluck up wrongheaded opinions by the root … yet you must not on that account desert the commonwealth. You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds." He finally accepted Henry's fee late in 1517 and fashioned a solid career in diplomacy, legal service, and finance, crowned in 1529 by succession to Cardinal Wolsey as chancellor of England.

More's early doubts, however, proved justified. Under Wolsey's direction More as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523 promoted a war levy so unpopular that its collection was discontinued. In European negotiations Henry's belligerence and Wolsey's ambition frustrated More's desire to stop the wars of Christendom so that its faith and culture could be preserved.

By the time that Wolsey's inability to obtain the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon had raised More to highest office and placed him in the increasingly distressing role of Henry's chief agent in the maneuvering that began to sever England from Rome, More was deeply engaged in writings against Lutherans, defending the fundamental tenets of the Church whose serious flaws he knew. More cannot justly be held responsible for the increased number of Protestants burned during his last months in office, but this was the gloomiest phase of his career. The polemics, in English after 1528, including the Dialogue Concernynge Heresyes (1529) and Apologye (1533), were his bulkiest works but not his best, for they were defensive in nature and required detailed rebuttal of specific charges, not the light and allusive touch of the humanist imagination. He continued writing until a year after his resignation from office, tendered May 16, 1532, and caused by illness and distress over England's course of separation from the Catholic Church.

Break with the King

More recognized the dangers that his Catholic apologetics entailed in the upside-down world of Henry's break with Rome and tried to avoid political controversy. But Henry pressed him for a public acknowledgment of the succession to the throne established in 1534. More refused the accompanying oath that repudiated papal jurisdiction in England, and the Christian unity thereby manifest, in favor of royal supremacy.

More's last dramatic year—from the first summons for interrogation on April 12, 1534, through imprisonment, trial for treason, defiance of his perjured accusers, and finally execution on July 6, 1535—should not be allowed to overshadow his entire life's experience. Its significance extends beyond the realm of English history. For many of Europe's most critical years, More worked to revitalize Christendom. He attacked those who most clearly threatened its unity; once convinced that Henry VIII was among their number, More withdrew his service and resisted to his death the effort to extract his allegiance. His life, like Utopia, offers fundamental insights about private virtues and their relationship to the politics of human community.

Further Reading

Preeminent More scholars are now contributing to the Yale Edition of his complete works under the direction of Louis Martz. Thus far published are The History of King Richard III, edited by Richard S. Sylvister (1963), and Utopia, edited by Edward Surtz and Jack H. Hexter (1965). A convenient edition of Utopia, with critical appraisals, is by Ligeia Gallagher, More's Utopia and Its Critics (1964); and a recent study is by R. Schoeck, Utopia and Humanism (1969).

The classic biography is by More's son-in-law, William Roper, The Life of Sir Thomas More, translated by Ralph Robynson and edited with introduction, notes, glossary, and index of names by J. Rawson Lumby (1952). Other good biographies are the Reverend Thomas E. Bridgett, The Life and Writings of Blessed Thomas More (1913), and Raymond Wilson Chambers, Thomas More (1935). For historical background see Stanley T. Bindoff, Tudor England (1954), and Myron Piper Gilmore, The World of Humanism, 1453-1517 (1962). □

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More, Thomas (1478–1535)

MORE, THOMAS (14781535)

MORE, THOMAS (14781535), English humanist scholar, author, and statesman. Thomas More was born in London on 7 February 1478 and executed there for high treason on 6 July 1535. His father, John More (died 1530), secured an appointment for his twelve-year-old son as page to John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor under Henry VII (ruled 14851509). Grateful for the training in diplomacy, More paid tribute to Morton, a canonist who had helped to overthrow Richard III in favor of Henry VII, in both his Utopia (1515) and his History of Richard III (c. 1513, published 1543). Under Morton's influence More attended Canterbury College, Oxford, where he met such humanists as John Colet, William Grocyn, and Thomas Linacre. Under parental pressure, he left Oxford in 1494 for the study of law at New Inn, and later at Lincoln's Inn. While studying law he became deeply attached to the Carthusians of the Charterhouse and carefully discerned a religious vocation. But once he determined that he should seek God in the world rather than in ascetical retirement from it, he married Jane Colt, who bore him four children before her death in 1511. Six weeks later the widower married the widow Alice Middleton to provide his young children with a good stepmother.

The center of a group of humanists at London, More in 1499 first met Desiderius Erasmus, who honored his friend in the Latin title of his famous Praise of Folly (Encomium Moriae). More's earliest literary works date from this period, but legal work and a series of public offices increasingly consumed his time. He began to compose Utopia during a trade mission to the Low Countries in 1515, and in 1518 he formally entered the service of Henry VIII (ruled 15091547) as a royal counselor. Mindful of the vagaries of political life, More dramatized the arguments for and against royal service in the first book of Utopia. While the philosophical seafarer Raphael Hathloday (whose account of Utopia fills the second book) refuses even to consider advising a European prince, lest he be sullied by contact with unprincipled courtiers intent on money, territory, or power, the character More takes a guardedly optimistic tone by arguing that politics is the art of the possible and that one need not necessarily be seduced or compromised if one is clear on certain nonnegotiable moral principles. While the second book has been interpreted in ways as widely different as heralding an ideal Platonic polis and prophetically anticipating a Marxist paradise, it may well be an ironical humanistic exploration of what a society would look like if it systematically abandoned the principles of political philosophy associated with Augustine's City of God, on which More had lectured as early as 1504 and to which he frequently returned in later political writings and in his own practice.

From 1518 to 1529 More proved himself an able member of the king's council, especially as a liaison between Henry VIII and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1475?1530), then Lord Chancellor, who was laboring to secure a general European peace. More was knighted in 1521 and chosen as the speaker of the House of Commons in 1523. By that year he had joined the campaign against the Lutheran literature then beginning to flood England and wrote controversial works, some on the king's behalf and others in his own name, against Luther and against William Tyndale, Simon Fish, and others. At this time also Henry began to consult More on his proposed divorce from Catherine of Aragón. When More informed the king that after long study he could not support his case, Henry chose other officials to pursue his "great matter" and sent More off to France for the negotiations that eventually resulted in the Treaty of Cambrai (1529).

When Wolsey had to resign from office after proving unable to dissolve Henry's marriage during the 1529 trial, Henry named More as the first nonclerical Lord Chancellor on 25 October 1529. While Henry's policies veered toward a breech with Rome over the question of the divorce, they showed little inclination to any doctrinal changes of the sort that More considered heretical and that he had long opposed both by the controlled use of civil law and by his writings. In the business of the chancery he garnered a reputation for impartiality and promptness in handling a vast docket of cases, but his direct influence with Henry VIII waned as it became increasingly obvious that the king was willing to break with Rome in order to marry Anne Boleyn. More resigned his office on 16 May 1532, the day after the bishops capitulated to the king on certain questions that More considered non-negotiable.

For over a year he lived modestly in retirement at Chelsea. His ongoing efforts to inform the king's conscience took the form of pseudonymous works such as The Debellation of Salem and Bizance, a story about the Turkish invasion of Christian Hungary in which one need not look terribly deep to find applications for the controversies between Protestant and Catholic religion in England. More managed to evade the various efforts of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's principal secretary and chief minister, to implicate him in treasonable activities, but he began to prepare himself for the inevitable by beginning to compose his Treatise on the Passion. He finished the work during his imprisonment for refusing to swear to the Oath of Supremacy when summoned to Lambeth Palace on 12 April 1534. Alert to various traps and ruses, he refused to reveal his conscience on the matter to anyone, even the much-loved members of his family. After confinement to the Tower of London for over a year, he was convicted of treason on 1 July 1535 on the basis of perjured evidence by Sir Richard Rich, one of Cromwell's lackeys. Only after the delivery of the verdict did he break his self-imposed silence about the reasons for his refusal to swear the oath when he delivered a great speech, claiming to have all the councils of Christendom in support of his conscience. After merrily joking with the executioner and insisting that he was "the king's good servant, but God's first," he died on the scaffold on 6 July 1535.

See also Cromwell, Thomas ; Erasmus, Desiderius ; Henry VII (England) ; Henry VIII (England) ; Humanists and Humanism ; Utopia .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

More, Thomas. The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. New Haven, 1963.

. Saint Thomas More: Selected Writings. Edited by John F. Thornton. New York, 2003.

. Selected Letters. Edited by Elizabeth Frances Rogers. New Haven, 1961.

Secondary Sources

Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. New York and London, 1998.

Marius, Richard. Thomas More: A Biography. New York, 1984.

Martz, Louis L. Thomas More: The Search for the Inner Man. New Haven, 1990.

Joseph W. Koterski

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More, Thomas

Thomas More

Born: February 6, 1478
London, England
Died: July 6, 1535
London, England

English statesman and humanist

The life of the English humanist (one who studies human nature, interests, and values) and statesman (political leader) Sir Thomas More represents the political and spiritual disorder of the Reformation (the time of religious change in the sixteenth century that moved away from Roman Catholic tradition toward Protestantism). The author of Utopia, he was beheaded for being against the religious policy of Henry VIII (14911547).

Early life

Thomas More was born in London on February 6, 1478, to John and Agnes More, whose families were connected with the city's legal community. His father, John More, was the butler at the lawyer's club, Lincoln's Inn, as his father was before him. John very much wanted to be a lawyer himself. That opportunity came when he married Agnes Granger, the wealthy daughter of a local merchant. In marriage she shared some of that wealth with John. He was well-liked at Lincoln's Inn and was voted to be a member and then was admitted to the bar (a group of practicing lawyers). Agnes and John had four other children besides Thomas but three died very young.

Thomas' education began at a prominent London school, St. Anthony's. In 1490 Thomas entered the household of Archbishop John Morton, Henry VII's closest adviser. His mother and father's connections made this possible. Service to Morton brought experience of the world. In 1492 More transferred to Oxford, where he first started Greek studies. Two years later he returned to London, where legal and political careers blossomed. By 1498 More had gained membership in Lincoln's Inn.

Christian humanism

More, while pursuing his legal career and entering Parliament in 1504, was drawn to the Christian humanist circle. This philosophy (the study of knowledge) coupled the study of Greek with the study of the gospel in seeking a more direct message. He spent his mid-twenties in close touch with London's strict Carthusian monks and almost became one. But More then decided that he could fulfill a Christian call to ministry while remaining a layman (non-clergy).

More first married Jane Colt, who bore three sons and a daughter before dying in 1511. He then married Alice Middleton. His legal career grew and led to an appointment as London's undersheriff in 1511. This meant additional work and income as public lawyer at Henry VIII's court and as court representative with foreign merchants.

More's first official trip abroad, at an embassy at Antwerp in 1515, gave him leisure time in which he began his greatest work, Utopia. Modeled after Plato's (c. 427c. 347 b.c.e.) Republic and finished and published in 1516, it describes an imaginary land, free of the prideful greed and violence of the English scenes that More had witnessed.

Service under Henry VIII

In Utopia More discusses the difficulties of counseling (as a lawyer) princes. This awareness kept him from accepting frequent invitations to serve Henry VIII, whose policies were often quite opposite to the humanist's philosophy. He finally accepted Henry's fee late in 1517 and had a solid career in diplomacy (the conduct in dealing with other nations), legal service, and finance. In 1529 he was chosen as the successor to Cardinal Wolsey as chancellor (secretary of the king) of England.

More's early doubts, however, proved justified. Under Wolsey's direction More, as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523, promoted a war tax so unpopular that its collection was discontinued.

Wolsey's inability to obtain the annulment (to make invalid) of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon (14851536) had raised More to highest office, and had placed him in the increasingly distressing role of Henry's chief agent in the strategies that began to sever England from Rome. More was deeply engaged in writings against Lutherans, defending the fundamental (essential) rules of the Roman Catholic Church, whose serious defects he knew. More cannot justly be held responsible for the increased number of Protestants killed during his last months in office, but this was the gloomiest phase of his career. He continued writing until a year after his resignation from office, given on May 16, 1532, which was caused by illness and distress over England's separation from the Catholic Church.

Break with the king

More recognized the dangers that his Catholic writings might bring in the upside-down world of Henry's break with Rome. So he tried to avoid political controversy (open to dispute). But Henry pressed him for a public acknowledgment of the country's break from Rome in 1534. More refused to take the accompanying oath that denied the pope's power in England.

More's last dramatic yearfrom the first summons for questioning on April 12, 1534, through imprisonment, trial for treason (the act of betraying one's country), defiance of his lying accusers, and finally execution (a death sentence carried out legally) on July 6, 1535should not be allowed to overshadow his entire life's experience. Its significance extends beyond the realm of English history. For many of Europe's most critical years, More worked to revitalize the Christian world. He attacked those who most clearly threatened its unity; once convinced that Henry VIII was among their number, More withdrew his service and resisted to his death the effort to remove his loyalty.

For More Information

Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. New York: Nan A. Talese, 1998.

Gallagher, Ligeia. More's Utopia and It's Critics. Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1964.

Marius, Richard. Thomas More: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1984.

Monti, James. The King's Good Servant But God's First: The Life and Writings of Saint Thomas More. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.

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More, Sir Thomas (1478–1535)

More, Sir Thomas (14781535)

An English statesman, author, and renowned Renaissance humanist who ran afoul of King Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church, Thomas More paid for his stand with his life. His father, Sir John More, was persecuted by Henry VII, the first Tudor king. He was Lord Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532. In 1510 he became an undersheriff of London. He became a counselor to the king in 1517 and was sent as a diplomat to Emperor Charles V. His success in this mission earned him a knighthood, attaining the title of undertreasurer in 1521. More served the king as adviser and go-between with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the leading representative of the pope in England.

In 1516 More completed Utopia, a book describing an ideal political and economic system in which religious tolerance and the common ownership of property bring about a peaceful and orderly society. More was inspired by ideal societies described by classical Greek authors such as Plato and Aristotle; his name of Utopia is derived from the Greek phrase eutopos, or no place.

In 1523 More was named speaker of the House of Commons and in 1525 chancellor of Lancaster, a key post in northern England. In the meantime he wrote several tracts against the Protestant reformers who were gaining a following on the continent of Europe. His Defence of the Seven Sacraments, written for Henry VIII, earned the king a commendation as Defender of the Faith from Pope Leo X. At the same time, however, Henry was growing strongly disenchanted with his wife of twenty years, Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to provide him with a male heir. In 1527 he asked Cardinal Wolsey to petition Pope Clement VII to have his marriage annulled. The pope refused to cooperate; Henry reacted by forcing Wolsey from his post and, in 1529, replacing him with More. Henry's argument that the pope had no authority in England was opposed by More, who saw the Protestant movement as a deadly threat to the survival of Christianity. He ordered the imprisonment and execution of many Protestants in England.

More did not support Henry's efforts to divorce Catherine of Aragon, however, and to protest the king's actions he asked to resign his post. Although the king granted this request in 1532, he was deeply angered by More's refusal to take an oath acknowledging Henry as the head of the Church of England. When Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, was crowned the new queen of England in 1533, More avoided the ceremony. This snub and his continuing friendship with Catherine of Aragon made him a marked man. In 1534 he was arrested for refusing to take another oath, one that would acknowledge an Act of Succession denying the ultimate authority of the pope in matters of religion. He was brought to trial; unwilling to recant his belief that a king could not replace a pope, he was found guilty and sentenced to be drawn and quartereda severely cruel punishment. Henry spared him this ordeal, ordering him instead to be beheaded, which took place on July 6, 1535. More became a martyr for the Catholic Church in its efforts to halt the spread of Protestantism in Europe.

See Also: Boleyn, Anne; Erasmus, Desiderius; Henry VIII

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More, Sir Thomas

Sir Thomas More (Saint Thomas More), 1478–1535, English statesman and author of Utopia, celebrated as a martyr in the Roman Catholic Church. He received a Latin education in the household of Cardinal Morton and at Oxford. Through his contact with the new learning and his friendships with Colet, Lyly, and Erasmus, More became an ardent humanist. As a successful London lawyer, he attracted the attention of Henry VIII, served him on diplomatic missions, entered the king's service in 1518, and was knighted in 1521. More held important government offices and, despite his disapproval of Henry's divorce from Katharine of Aragón, he was made lord chancellor at the fall of Wolsey (1529). He resigned in 1532 because of ill health and probably because of increasing disagreement with Henry's policies. Because of his refusal to subscribe to the Act of Supremacy, which impugned the pope's authority and made Henry the head of the English Church, he was imprisoned (1534) in the Tower and finally beheaded on a charge of treason.

A man of noble character and deep, resolute religious conviction, More had great personal charm, unfailing good humor, piercing wit, and a fearlessness that enabled him to jest even on the scaffold. His Utopia (published in Latin, 1516; tr. 1551) is a picture of an ideal state founded entirely on reason. Among his other works in Latin and English are a translation of The Life of John Picus, Earl of Mirandula (1510); a History of Richard III, upon which Shakespeare based his play; a number of polemical tracts against the Lutherans (1528–33); devotional works including A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (1534) and a Treatise on the Passion (1534); poems; meditations; and prayers. More was beatified (1886) by a decree of Pope Leo XIII, canonized (1935) by Pius XI, and proclaimed (2000) the patron saint of politicians by John Paul II.

See his complete works (16 vol., 1963–85) and his correspondence, ed. by E. F. Rogers (1947), which contains all his letters except those to Erasmus. The biography of More by his son-in-law William Roper (ed. by E. V. Hitchcock, 1935) has been the principal source of later biographies, particularly the standard modern biography by R. W. Chambers (1935). See also biographies by R. Marius (1985) and P. Ackroyd (1998); studies by R. Pineas (1968), R. Johnson (1969), E. E. Reynolds (1965 and 1969); G. M. Logan (1983), and A. Fox (1985).

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More, Sir Thomas

More, Sir Thomas (1478–1535). More, lawyer, humanist, and amateur theologian, held great intellectual and moral ascendancy over Henrician England, until his defence of the Roman catholic cause brought about his downfall. He practised common law in the 1500s, and married in 1505 despite previous plans to take holy orders. His legal and political career prospered in the 1510s and 1520s: he became under-sheriff of London (1510), master of requests (1518), and Speaker of the Commons (1523). He was knighted in 1521, and succeeded Wolsey as lord chancellor in 1529. Meanwhile, More became a celebrated enthusiast of humanism, and friend not only of other English scholars but also of Desiderius Erasmus. His Utopia, which described an imaginary land whose inhabitants shaped their lives by natural reason, made his literary reputation, though scholarship has never been able to agree on the book's real intention. More's later religious writings had no ambiguities. He advised on Henry VIII's The Assertion of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther and rebutted Luther's refutation (1523). Licensed from 1528 to read heretical books and refute them, he wrote long, fervent catholic ripostes against William Tyndale and Simon Fish. The king's first marriage-crisis placed More in a quandary. He tried to persuade Henry to take Catherine back, and to persecute heretics, until failure forced his resignation from office in May 1532. When required to swear an oath to the new royal succession in 1534, More refused, but claimed that his silence over his reasons could not be construed as ‘malicious’ denial of royal claims. He was imprisoned and interrogated until one witness, Richard Rich, convinced himself that More had really denied the royal supremacy. Swiftly tried and condemned on perjured evidence (as he claimed), More finally spoke out in defence of the papacy, and was executed on 6 July 1535. He was canonized in 1935.

Euan Cameron

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More, Sir Thomas

More, Sir Thomas (1478–1535) English statesman, humanist scholar, and writer of Utopia (1516). Henry VIII knighted More in 1521. Despite his opposition to Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, More succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in 1529. He resigned in 1532, following policy disagreements with Henry. More's principled refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy (1534), which made Henry head of the English Church, led to his imprisonment and execution for treason. Utopia portrays an ideal state founded on reason.

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More, Sir Thomas (1478–1535)

More, Sir Thomas (1478–1535)

More, Sir Thomas (1478–1535), English humanist and statesman.

The life of Thomas More exemplifies the political and spiritual upheaval of the Reformation. The author of Utopia, he was beheaded for opposing the religious policy of Henry VIII.

Thomas More was born in London on Feb. 6, 1478, to parents whose families were connected with the city's legal community. His education began at a prominent London school, St. Anthony's. In 1490 Thomas entered the household of Archbishop John Morton, Henry VII's closest adviser. Service to Morton brought experience of the world, then preferment in 1492 to Oxford, where More first encountered Greek studies. Two years later he returned to London, where legal and political careers were forged. By 1498 More had gained membership in Lincoln's Inn, an influential lawyers' fraternity.


Christian Humanism. A broader perspective then opened. The impact of humanism in England was greatly intensified about 1500, partly by Erasmus's first visit. His biblical interests spurred the work of Englishmen recently back from Italy; they had studied Greek intensively and thus were eager for fresh scrutiny of the Gospel texts and the writings of the early Church Fathers. John Colet's Oxford lectures on the Pauline epistles, and his move in 1504 to London as dean of St. Paul's Cathedral and founder of its famous humanist school, epitomized this reformist, educational activity among English churchmen. Lay patronage of the movement quickly made Cambridge, where Erasmus periodically taught, a focus of biblical scholarship and made London a favored meeting ground for Europe's men of letters.

England thus shed its cultural provincialism, and More, while pursuing his legal career and entering Parliament in 1504, was drawn to the Christian humanist circle. He spent his mid-20s in close touch with London's austere Carthusian monks and almost adopted their vocation. His thinking at this stage is represented by his interest in the Italian philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who had also become increasingly pious when approaching the age of 30 a decade before; More's 1505 translation of Pico's first biography stressed that development.

But More then decided that he could fulfill a Christian vocation while remaining a layman. Both his subsequent family life and public career document the humanist persuasion that Christian service could be done, indeed should be pursued, in the world at large. He first married Jane Colt, who bore three sons and a daughter before dying in 1511, and then Alice Middleton. His household at Bucklersbury, London, until 1524 and then at Chelsea teemed with visitors, such as his great friend Erasmus, and formed a model educational community for the children and servants; More corresponded with his daughters in Latin. His legal career flourished and led to appointment as London's undersheriff in 1511. This meant additional work and revenue as civic counsel at Henry VIII's court and as negotiator with foreign merchants.

More's first official trip abroad, on embassy at Antwerp in 1515, gave him leisure time in which he began his greatest work, Utopia. Modeled on Plato's Republic, written in Latin, finished and published in 1516, it describes an imaginary land, purged of the ostentation, greed, and violence of the English and European scenes that More surveyed. Interpretations of Utopia vary greatly. The dialogue form of book I and Utopia's continual irony suggest More's deliberate ambiguity about his intent. Whatever vision More really professed, Utopia persists and delights as the model for an important literary genre.


Service under Henry VIII. Utopia's book I and More's history of Richard III, written during the same period, contain reflections about politics and the problems of counseling princes. They represent More's uncertainty about how to handle frequent invitations to serve Henry VIII, whose policies included many facets distasteful to the humanists. More had written in Utopia: "So it is in the deliberations of monarchs. If you cannot pluck up wrongheaded opinions by the root . . . yet you must not on that account desert the commonwealth. You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds." He finally accepted Henry's fee late in 1517 and fashioned a solid career in diplomacy, legal service, and finance, crowned in 1529 by succession to Cardinal Wolsey as chancellor of England.

More's early doubts, however, proved justified. Under Wolsey's direction More as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523 promoted a war levy so unpopular that its collection was discontinued. In European negotiations, Henry's belligerence and Wolsey's ambition frustrated More's desire to stop the wars of Christendom so that its faith and culture could be preserved.

By the time that Wolsey's inability to obtain the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon had raised More to highest office and placed him in the increasingly distressing role of Henry's chief agent in the maneuvering that began to sever England from Rome, More was deeply engaged in writings against Lutherans, defending the fundamental tenets of the Church whose serious flaws he knew. More cannot justly be held responsible for the increased number of Protestants burned during his last months in office, but this was the gloomiest phase of his career. The polemics, in English after 1528, including the Dialogue Concernynge Heresyes (1529) and Apologye (1533), were his bulkiest works but not his best, for they were defensive in nature and required detailed rebuttal of specific charges, not the light and allusive touch of the humanist imagination. He continued writing until a year after his resignation from office, tendered May 16, 1532, and caused by illness and distress over England's course of separation from the Catholic Church.


Break with the King. More recognized the dangers that his Catholic apologetics entailed in the upside-down world of Henry's break with Rome and tried to avoid political controversy. But Henry pressed him for a public acknowledgment of the succession to the throne established in 1534. More refused the accompanying oath that repudiated papal jurisdiction in England, and the Christian unity thereby manifest, in favor of royal supremacy.

More's last dramatic year—from the first summons for interrogation on April 12, 1534, through imprisonment, trial for treason, defiance of his perjured accusers, and finally execution on July 6, 1535—should not be allowed to overshadow his entire life's experience. Its significance extends beyond the realm of English history. For many of Europe's most critical years, More worked to revitalize Christendom. He attacked those who most clearly threatened its unity; once convinced that Henry VIII was among their number, More withdrew his service and resisted to his death the effort to extract his allegiance. His life, like Utopia, offers fundamental insights about private virtues and their relationship to the politics of human community.

EWB

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More, Thomas

Thomas More

February 6, 1478
London, England
July 6, 1535
London, England

Humanist, author, statesman

"This means that if they suddenly had to part with all the gold and silver they possess—a fate which in any other country would be thought equivalent to having one's guts torn out—nobody in Utopia would care two hoots."

Thomas More in Utopia.

The life of the English humanist and statesman Thomas More exemplifies the political and spiritual upheaval of the Protestant Reformation, the movement to reform the Catholic Church. Now known for his revolutionary work Utopia, More was beheaded for opposing the religious policy of Henry VIII (1491–1547; see entry).

Influenced by humanists

Thomas More was born in London on February 6, 1478, to parents whose families were connected with the city's legal community. His education began at a prominent London school, Saint Anthony's. In 1490 he went to work for Archbishop John Morton (c. 1420–1500), the closest adviser of King Henry VII (1457–1509; reigned 1485–1509). In 1492 he attended Oxford University in England, where he first encountered Greek studies. There he seems to have been tempted to become a priest or a monk. Following his father's lead, however, More began studying law when he returned to London two years later. By 1498 More had gained membership in Lincoln's Inn, an influential lawyers' fraternity. Around this time More also came under the influence of John Colet (c. 1466–1519), an important scholar and preacher.

Colet was educated in Italy and brought back to England a controversial method of studying Scriptures (text of the Bible, the Christian holy book), which was developed by humanists. Humanists were scholars devoted to reviving the literary and philosophical works of ancient Greek and Roman writers. They believed that Scriptures should be read within an historical context instead of being regarded as sacred texts that should never be questioned or analyzed. Colet caused a sensation by lecturing on the historical aspects of Paul's Epistles (Letters) to the Romans from the New Testament (the second half of the Bible). Around 1498 More similarly drew attention to himself by lecturing on City of God by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430), one of the first Christian theologians.

In 1499 More met the famous Dutch humanist Erasmus Desiderius (c. 1466–1536; see entry) and began studying Greek. Together More and Erasmus collaborated on translating works by the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata (c.120–c.190). Lucian had parodied, or made fun of, pagan superstitions and was widely regarded as an atheist (one who does not believe in God or gods). More and Erasmus learned from Lucian the art of humorous ridicule for a serious purpose, aiming at criticizing the superstitions and immoral practices of Christians without directly doing so. At the time, questioning church doctrines and superstitions was very dangerous. Using parody or satire was a way to disguise one's true message while calling church traditions into question.

Develops political views

While More continued his studies and translations with Erasmus, he advanced in his career and took on family responsibilities. In 1504 or 1505 he married Jane Colt, a young woman from the country. After bearing four children she died in 1511. Within a month More was married again, to a widow named Alice Middleton.

When King Henry VII died in 1509, More greeted his death with passionate poems dedicated to young Henry VIII. More was sharply critical of the old king, making Henry VII seem a mean and overbearing ruler. In one of these poems, which were published in a collection in 1518, More expressed his preference for a republic (government consisting of representatives of the people) over a monarchy (government controlled by one ruler). Senators in a republic, he said, are chosen by reasoned argument, but monarchs are chosen by chance. He recognized, however, that people rarely had any choice in the government that rules them. In twelve of his poems he condemned tyranny, or rule by extreme force that limits the rights and freedoms of citizens. Also during this time More undertook a history of King Richard III (1452–1483; ruled 1483–85), but he may have given up writing this work to devote his time to Utopia.

Publishes Utopia

In 1511 More was appointed undersheriff of London. This job involved acting as an adviser at the court of King Henry VIII and as a negotiator with foreign merchants. Four years later More took his first official trip abroad, to Antwerp in present-day Belgium. When he returned to London he began Utopia, a fiction that he wrote in Latin and modeled on the ancient Greek philosopher Plato's Republic. Published in 1516, Utopia describes an imaginary land that is free of the ostentation, greed, and violence that plagued the society of Henry's England. More's inspiration for the book was the discovery of the Americas.

In the first part of Utopia More recounts his meeting with a sunburned Portuguese mariner named Raphael Hythloday, who has been with the explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512) in the New World. Hythloday is a philosophical traveler, both opinionated and virtuous. As Hythloday, More, and More's friend Peter Giles converse, Hythloday launches into a critique of the ills of European society. Every place he has seen in his voyages seems superior to Europe. He bitterly criticizes the injustice of the English legal system that allows a few to amass great wealth, while multitudes endure such extreme poverty that they have to beg or steal to survive.

In the second part of Utopia Hythloday speaks enthusiastically of a republic on an island off the coast of Brazil. It had been founded 1,760 years earlier by a compassionate conqueror named Utopus, who wrote a constitution for a system that would make its citizens virtuous and its society secure. Hythloday then goes on to describe in great detail the structure of this society. The root of all social problems can be traced to the holding of private property. A person who has property develops pride and wants to acquire more wealth, oftentimes at the expense of others who have little or nothing. In the Utopian society, personal property, private life, and individuality are abolished, and those who break the laws are punished by enslavement or death. Gold, silver, and jewels are made essentially worthless (see accompanying box). Husbands and wives are alone only when they sleep. Utopians eat, work, travel, and spend their leisure time in groups. Regulations are severe, and the punishment given for the offenses is central not only to the government, but to religion as well. All Utopians are required to believe that God exists and that in a future life he will reward good and punish evil deeds done in this life. Without such a belief, no one can be a good citizen. The punishment of human law must be backed up by the threat of divine vengeance. The citizens of Utopia, therefore, readily convert to Christianity. By the end of the book, More had drawn a bleak estimate of the human condition.

"No place"

Thomas More believed that personal property is the basis of all social problems. Nevertheless, he knew that even when personal property has been eliminated, the desire for wealth remains. More addressed this issue in Book Two of Utopia. In the following passage Hythloday, the main character, explains how gold and jewels have been made essentially worthless in Utopia and why that society works so well.

According to this system [of government], plates and drinking-vessels, though beautifully designed, are made of quite cheap stuff like glass or earthenware. But silver and gold are the normal materials, in private houses as well as communal dining-halls, for the humblest items of domestic equipment, such as chamber-pots [toilets]. They also use chains and fetters [chains for the feet] of solid gold to immobilize slaves, and anyone who commits a really shameful crime is forced to go about with gold rings on his ears and fingers, a gold necklace round his neck, and a crown of gold on his head. In fact, they do everything they can to bring these materials into contempt [disregard]. This means that if they suddenly had to part with all the gold and silver they possess—a fate which in any other country would be thought equivalent to having one's guts torn out—nobody in Utopia would care two hoots.

It's much the same with jewels. There are pearls to be found on the beaches, diamonds and garnets on certain types of rock—but they never bother to look for them. However, if they happen to come across one, they pick it up and polish it for some toddler to wear. At first, children are terribly proud of such jewellry—until they're old enough to register that it's only worn in the nursery. Then, without any prompting from their parents, but purely as a matter of self-respect, they give it up—just as our children grow out of things like dolls, and conkers [a game played by children during the Renaissance], and lucky charms.

Source: More, Thomas. Utopia. Paul Turner, editor. New York: Penguin Books, 1965, pp. 86–87.

Named lord chancellor

In the meantime, Henry VIII had invited More to become a councilor in the royal court. More's deep suspicion of rulers and politics made him reluctant to accept the invitation, but he finally agreed to the appointment in 1517. He went on to build a career in diplomacy, legal service, and finance. More eventually learned that his early doubts about serving Henry had been justified. By 1523 More had risen to the position of speaker of the House of Commons (lower branch of Parliament). Under the direction of the lord chancellor of England, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c. 1475–1530), More had to promote a highly unpopular war levy (tax) that was ultimately discontinued. In negotiations with other European countries, More was constantly frustrated by Henry's warlike nature and Wolsey's political ambition. More wanted to stop wars so that the Christian faith and culture could be preserved. In 1529 Henry appointed More lord chancellor of England, replacing Wolsey, who had failed to obtain the pope's approval of the annulment (an order that declares a marriage invalid) of the king's marriage to Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536). More now occupied the highest administrative office in the land. Yet he soon found himself in a distressing role as Henry's chief agent in dealing with the pope.

While serving as chancellor, More was deeply engaged in writings against Lutherans (followers of religious reformer Martin Luther; see entry) In such works as Dialogue Concernynge Heresyes (1529) and Apologye (1533) he defended the Catholic Church, even though he was aware of its flaws. More steadfastly held that heretics (those who violate the laws of the church) should be burned for their blasphemy (showing of contempt) against God's true church. At the same time, Henry was drawing further away from the church because the pope still refused to grant him a divorce. In 1532 More resigned from office, primarily because of illness and distress over Henry's outright threat to break from the church. Finally, Henry simply announced that the pope had no authority in England. Statutes passed by the Reformation Parliament in 1533 and 1534 named the king supreme head of the church, now called the Anglican Church or Church of England, and cut all ties with the papacy. The Anglican Church thus became an independent national body.

More recognized the dangers posed by his pro-Catholic writings, so he tried to avoid political controversy. But Henry pressured him to reject the pope's jurisdiction in England. More refused Henry's order because he did not want to contribute to disharmony within the Christian world. In April 1534 More was summoned for interrogation by royal officials. When he did not change his position he was put on trial for treason (betrayal of one's country) and found guilty. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535. Although More is most often remembered as the man who defied Henry VIII, the significance of his life extends beyond the realm of English history. During the turbulent years of the early Reformation, he worked to revitalize Christianity within the church through his active involvement in humanism. In 1935 he was declared a saint by the Catholic Church. More's Utopia continues to be read, and is considered a classic work on the ideal society.

For More Information

Books

Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. New York: Nan A. Talese, 1998.

More, Thomas. Utopia. Paul Turner, editor. New York: Penguin Books, 1965.

Video Recordings

A Man for All Seasons. Burbank, Calif.: RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1985.

Web Sites

Jokinen, Anniina. "More, Thomas." The Lumninarium. [Online] Available http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/tmore.htm, April 5, 2002.

Knight, Kevin. "More, Thomas." Catholic Encyclopedia. [Online] Available http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14689c.htm, April 5, 2002.

"More, Thomas." Redefining the Sacred. [Online] Available http://www.folger.edu/institute/sacred/image8.html, April 5, 2002.

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More, Thomas

Thomas More

1478–1535

Statesman
Humanist

Education.

More was the son of a prominent lawyer in late fifteenth-century London who gave his young son the best education available in England at the time. More went to school early and he entered the household of English cardinal John Morton at the age of twelve. Morton was not only a churchman, but he also served the Tudor king Henry VII as Lord Chancellor of England, and thus he helped to introduce Thomas More to the life of high politics that would play such an important role in his later life. After leaving Morton's household, More entered the University of Oxford where he was tempted for a time to pursue a career in the church, but his father's wishes prevailed. After completing his studies at Oxford, More entered the Inns of Court in London to begin his legal education. While he was a law student, he came under the influence of John Colet, the prominent humanist who served at the time as the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral and who influenced many English intellectuals to take up humanist studies. In 1499 More met Erasmus and the two struck up a friendship that would last the rest of their lives. Both men studied the comedy of Lucian together during this period, and their later mastery of ancient comedy punctuated the letters they exchanged as well as the humanist works they dedicated to each other. During the first decade of the sixteenth century More continued his humanist studies, but he was also actively involved in furthering his career. He married Jane Colt and had four children with her, but she died in 1511. A month later More married Alice Middleton, who would later be criticized by one of More's humanist biographers as "blunt" and "rude." Like most humanists, More believed that education helped produce virtue and so he saw to it all that all his children were well educated. His daughters were famous in sixteenth-century England for their mastery of Latin and the classics.

Ambitions.

By his middle age Thomas More had established himself as a lawyer of distinction in London, and he had begun to play a role in local and later national politics. He was first chosen as undersheriff of London, before becoming a member of the Royal Council. Later he served as speaker of Parliament, and finally, with the embarrassment of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529, he was elevated to become Lord Chancellor. He used his positions to foster the New Learning in England and to defend humanism against scholastic traditionalists who aimed to stamp the new movement out. At the same time More was hardly a worldly and liberal figure in the Italian mold. He was reputed to wear a hair shirt and to practice self-flagellation, and when Luther's ideas began to acquire admirers in England during the 1520s, More advocated the swift and sure punishment of these heretics.

Works.

Like many humanists More was an active letter writer and he used his letters to discuss all manner of issues with his friends and associates. One of his most famous letters defended his friend Erasmus' Praise of Folly against its detractors. Erasmus had dedicated this work to More, and the title was actually a play on words. The work's Latin title Moriae Encomium could be read as either "In Praise of Folly" or "In Praise of More." Today, More is chiefly remembered for two works, his History of Richard III and Utopia. The first of these works was unusual for the time since it was prepared about the same time in both English and Latin versions. The English version is longer, which has led some authorities to conclude that it was actually written before the Latin. The use of English at the time was highly unusual, since most scholars in the island relied on Latin or French. More's work was thus an important literary milestone in the creation of modern English. The history that More constructed about the evil king Richard III was not objective in a modern sense, but was nevertheless an advance from the largely legendary chronicles that passed for history in England at the time. Like other humanist historians More believed that the study of the past could ennoble readers by providing them with moral lessons from the lives of good and evil figures. In the History More created the image of the evil king Richard that Shakespeare was to use as the basis for his masterpiece Richard III. More relied on eyewitnesses to Richard's reign and although he may have created the notion that Richard was a hunchback, historians have for centuries confirmed his picture of the king as a ruthless tyrant. Much of The History of Richard III was written around the same time as Machiavelli was completing his Prince in Italy. A comparison of the two works is revealing. Where Machiavelli embraced the ability of rulers to enforce their will with determination and at times even ruthlessness, More linked Richard's destruction to his tyrannical and amoral behavior. The second and even more widely known of More's works, Utopia, was first published at Basel in 1516. More came up with the idea for the work while he was on a diplomatic mission to the court of Burgundy. It is one of the first pieces of European fiction to be inspired by the discovery of the Americas. It records the experiences of Raphael Hythloday, a voyager who has just returned from a journey to the New World with Amerigo Vespucci, the famous Italian geographer. Hythloday is a philosopher of sorts and he praises every place he has seen on his journeys at the expense of contemporary Europe. One of these is the island of Utopia, and the remainder of the book treats the strange customs of the inhabitants of this newly discovered world. Many of Hythloday's statements mock contemporary mores, including his attacks on contemporary penal practices and capital punishment in Europe. The work was exceptional primarily for its economic theories. More pointed out that privation was the cause of enormous suffering and lawlessness in European society, and the perfect society that he imagines is consequently one in which private property is banned. The Utopians do not pursue the creation of wealth or the production of goods for mere luxury's sake, but each has enough for his or her own needs. They spend part of each day working, but since everyone has a task and there are no leisured elites like in Europe, there is greater time for everyone to enjoy the good things of the world. Many have seen in More's vision a bleak and darker side, that is, of a society in which most human freedoms have been abolished. Certainly his identification of an imaginary society that serves as a critique of contemporary Europe was popular. It gave rise in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to an entire genre of Utopian literature in which social theorists imagined their own perfect society.

Later Problems.

Although More's rise to power had been swift throughout the 1520s, he exercised little influence on government following his appointment as Lord Chancellor because of his disapproval of Henry VIII's plans to divorce Catherine of Aragon. More eventually retired from public life, writing polemical works against Protestantism. When he refused to swear a loyalty oath in 1534 to Henry VIII, he was first imprisoned in the Tower of London and later tried and convicted for treason. He was executed on 1 July 1535.

sources

P. Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More (London: Chatto and Windus, 1998).

A. Kenney, Thomas More (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

R. Marius, Thomas More, A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1984).

J. B. Trapp, Erasmus, Colet, and More: The Early Tudor Humanists and Their Books (London: British Library, 1991).

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More, Thomas

MORE, THOMAS

Thomas More (1478–1535) was born in London on February 7 and executed on Tower Hill, London on July 6. He was a lawyer and royal councilor who rose to be Lord Chancellor of England (1529–1532) before falling afoul of Henry VIII over the matter of the king's divorce. Of his voluminous writings, the only one that has anything to say about science and technology is Utopia (1516), his vastly influential Latin book about an imaginary island republic somewhere off South America.

To More and those of his fellow humanists who understood the Greek etymology, of the word that he coined for this title utopia meant simply noplace (ou + topos): the word, that is, did not originally have the meaning—an ideal society, or a fictional work about one—acquired in the book's aftermath. Indeed the fundamental interpretive question about the work is whether More intends Utopia as his ideal society. At the least, though, the Utopian commonwealth includes a number of institutions that he clearly regarded as preferable to those of sixteenth-century England and Europe.

The Utopian institutions toward which the book embodies a clearly favorable attitude do not for the most part involve science or technology: England had to wait until 1627, when Bacon's New Atlantis appeared, for its prototypical scientific utopia. More finds the principal means to human betterment not in scientific and technological advances but in wiser political, religious, and educational institutions. There are, however, several passages focusing on science and technology, and in all but one the attitude toward these subjects is unreservedly positive.

The account of Utopia is narrated by a fictitious character named Raphael Hythlodaeus, who is supposed to have sailed with Amerigo Vespucci and who now speaks to More and his friend Peter Giles. Just before the account, Hythlodaeus attempts to convince his auditors of the superiority of Utopia to Europe by an historical anecdote. Utopia had had, in about 300 c.e., a previous encounter with Old World visitors, in the form of a company of shipwrecked Romans and Egyptians. The Utopians, Hytholodaeus approvingly observes, profited greatly from this chance event, learning "every single useful art of the Roman empire either directly from their guests or by using the seeds of ideas to discover these arts for themselves ...This readiness to learn is, I think, the really important reason for their being better governed and living more happily than we do, though we are not inferior to them in brains or resources" (1995, p. 107; 2002, p. 39, 40). Later, discoursing again on the Utopians' passion for learning, Hythlodaeus notes that they are "wonderfully quick to seek out those various skills which make life more agreeable" (1995, p. 183; 2002, p. 76). In this instance, having heard in general terms about printing and paper-making from Hythlodaeus and his companions, the Utopians rapidly develop these technologies and use them to reprint the classical Greek and Roman books that Hythlodaeus's group had with them.

Among the ancient books, Hythlodaeus notes, the Utopians were especially pleased to receive works of Hippocrates and Galen, because in Utopia medical science is held in great esteem. In general, the Utopians find science a source not only of practical benefits but of keen intellectual pleasure. Hythlodaeus singles out for special praise their mastery of astronomy, in the pursuit of which "they compute with the greatest exactness the course and position of the sun, the moon and the other stars that are visible in their area of the sky" (1995, p. 157; 2002, p. 65). (For astrology, they have only contempt.) They also regard the exploration of the secrets of nature as a form of worship. God, they suppose, "created this beautiful mechanism of the world to be admired—and by whom, if not by man, who is alone in being able to appreciate so great a thing?" (1995, p. 183; 2002, p. 76).

Another area in which the Utopians are said to be especially inventive is the design of weapons. There is no hint of disapproval in the passage on this subject. (The Utopians avoid war whenever possible, but when it is unavoidable, they excel at it.) Only one passage in More's book intentionally raises the possibility that technological advance may not always be an unmixed blessing. Before reaching Utopia, Hythlodaeus and his companions have occasion to introduce their native South American hosts to the magnetic compass and its navigational benefits. Previously, the natives had "sailed with great timidity, and only in summer." Now, however, they put such trust in the loadstone that "they no longer fear winter at all, and tend to be careless rather than safe." Thus "there is some danger that through their imprudence this device, which they thought would be so advantageous to them, may become the cause of much mischief" (all quotes 1995, p. 49; 2002, p 12). This is as close as More comes to the topic of the ethical implications of science and technology—a topic that was, however, to be a major focus of many of the hundreds of utopias (and, latterly, dystopias) that have their prototype in his subtle little book.


GEORGE M. LOGAN

SEE ALSO Utopia and Dystopia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baker-Smith, Dominic. (1991). More's "Utopia." Unwin Critical Library. London and New York: HarperCollins Academic.

Guy, John. (2000). Thomas More. Reputations (series). London: Arnold; New York: Oxford University Press.

Manuel, Frank E., and Fritzie P. Manuel. (1979). Utopian Thought in the Western World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

More, Thomas. (1995). Utopia: Latin Text and English Translation, eds. George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams, and Clarence H. Miller. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

More, Thomas. (2002). Utopia, rev. edition, eds. George M. Logan, and Robert M. Adams. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. This edition contains the English translation only (plus annotations and an introduction), omitting the Latin original. While the 1995 edition cited above is the scholarly standard, this 2002 version, a widely-used teaching edition with the same translation, is far handier.

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More, Thomas (1478–1535)

MORE, THOMAS
(14781535)

Sir Thomas More, later canonized St. Thomas More, was a lawyer and statesman rather than a philosopher. More was born the son of a London lawyer who later became a judge. He was educated at St. Anthony's School and was appointed a page in the household of Archbishop (later Cardinal) Morton, who sent him to Canterbury Hall, Oxford, in the early 1490s. More left without a degree to study at New Inn and Lincoln's Inn in London. His lectures dealt not only with law but also with St. Augustine's City of God. He early composed various English poems and Latin epigrams that were not printed for years. However, a Latin translation of four Greek dialogues of Lucian appeared in 1506, and an English translation of the Latin life of his model, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in 1510. Increasingly involved in public affairs, More became a member of Parliament in 1504, beginning the career that led to the well-known events of his chancellorship and his martyrdom. By the time of the Utopia (1516), he had long since mastered Greek and enjoyed the friendship of such humanists as Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas Linacre, William Grocyn, John Colet, Cuthbert Tunstall, and St. John Fisher.

Philosophical Orientation

With respect to his philosophy, Thomas More belonged very much to the early or Erasmian period of the English Renaissance in his emotional and intellectual attitudestoleration of eclecticism, search for simplicity, stress on ethics, return to Greek sources, and desire for reform: social, political, educational, religious, and philosophical. These traits appear not only in his highly imaginative and durably significant creation, Utopia, but also in his most pertinent pronouncements in real life. The latter may be divided into two philosophical periods, roughly separated by the year 1521, the year of publication of Henry VIII's Defense of the Seven Sacraments (Assertio Septem Sacramentorum ), which More undertook to defend by his pseudonymous diatribe (1523) against Martin Luther's strictures.

During his first period, in his justly famous letters to Martin Dorp (1515), to the University of Oxford (1518), and to a monk (15191520), More opted for a simplified logic, the study of all Aristotle's works in Greek with their classical Greek commentaries, and the mastery of the Greek New Testament and Greek Fathers as well as the pagan classics in the original language. He praised the Aristotelian paraphrases of Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples and, in a letter to Erasmus (May 26, 1520), expressed complete agreement with Juan Luis Vives's False Dialecticians (Pseudodialectici ). His attack on contemporary Schoolmen centered on their preoccupation with logic, the universals, and a mere fragment of the Aristotelian corpus.

In his second, controversial period, More rose to the defense of Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic theologians, whose doctrine he showed to agree with that of the earlier church. However, since the interest of these works, even of A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (1534), is almost entirely theological, there is no need to dwell on them, except to point out that he held the common scholastic views on the mutual relationship, harmony, and assistance between reason and revelation, with philosophy as the propaedeutic to theology and as the handmaid of theology. This synthesis appears in a fundamental form even on the island of Utopia, where ethical norms are bolstered by religious truths and where the true religion can prevail in an atmosphere of free and calm reasoning.

Utopia

Since Utopia is More's major, or at least most influential, writing, its philosophical elements will be discussed in detail.

background

Renaissance thinkers usually held that there were four great philosophical schools: Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism, which differed mainly according to their opinions of the summum bonum. The Christianization of Aristotle was accomplished in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by the Schoolmen, and that of Plato in the fifteenth century by Marsilio Ficino and other humanists. Stoicism had found expression in almost boundless humanistic admiration for the writings of Seneca and especially Cicero before reaching definite formulation later in the Christian Stoicism of Justus Lipsius. It was therefore inevitable that humanistic attempts, if only rhetorical ones, should be made to Christianize Epicurus, too. The latter's rehabilitation had been much accelerated in the early fifteenth century by Ambrogio Traversari's Latin translation of his life by Diogenes Laërtius. Lorenzo Valla had set forth Epicurus's doctrine favorably in De Voluptate ac de Vero Bono (Pleasure and the True Good ). Finally Erasmus undertook his thorough baptism in De Contemptu Mundi (The Contempt of the World, written c. 1490) and the colloquy The Epicurean (published 1533). In both these works, Erasmus manipulated the concept of pleasure and the principles of selection to establish a Christian Epicureanism.

epicureanism in utopia

More's main sources for classical Epicureanism were undoubtedly the Lives of Diogenes Laërtius and the De Finibus of Cicero, with minor borrowings from Seneca, Quintilian, Lucian, and Aulus Gellius. The "Christian" modifications already introduced by such humanists as Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus should not be minimized. The preoccupation of Renaissance men with the problem of pleasure is evident from the many humanistic treatments of the subject, including that by Ficino. Consequently Epicurus and Epicureanism are here viewed not according to their historical reality but according to the light in which they appeared to Thomas More through his reading and conversation.

In spite of the great to-do in the Utopia about the philosophy of pleasure and in spite of the deliberate but superficial rejection of Stoicism, the emphasis on virtue and virtuous living is disproportionate, even extraordinary, and therefore suspicious. This respect for Stoicism also becomes explicit in the stress on the guidance of nature, the assumed existence of natural law, and the natural community of humankind.

There are several contacts between Utopian and Epicurean hedonism. The most evident, naturally, is the exaltation of pleasure as the summum bonum, to which all human activities, including the operations of the virtues, are directed and subordinated. But the term pleasure (coluptas ) is so manipulated in the Utopia that it embraces everything from scratching an itch to enjoying eternal bliss with God. Like Epicurus, the Utopians hold to both kinds of pleasure: pleasure as a state and pleasure as motion. Hence health for them is a true pleasure. Like Epicurus, they belittle neither the joy arising from conferral of a benefit, nor the testimony of a good conscience as the reward for just deeds, nor the importance of mental pleasures. There is a common emphasis with Epicurus on the simple life, which in Utopia leads to the ridicule of false, unnatural delight in fine clothing, noble ancestry, glittering jewelry, gold and silver, gambling, and hunting. Perhaps the most important connection is the enunciation of the principles of selection; the single positive criterion is that a pleasure be naturala criterion recognized as so obscure that it is delimited by three negative norms: that no pain follow the pleasure chosen, that no greater pleasure be lost, and that no social harm result.

divergences from classical epicureanism

The departures from the postulates of classical Epicureanism are so radical that the Utopian philosophy in action can be labeled Epicurean, or even hedonistic, only in the broadest sense. For example, good Utopians must believe in the providence of God, the immortality of man's soul, and divine retribution in a future life. These Utopian principles are taken not from Epicurus but from More's great favorite, Plato, especially his Laws. Utopian ascetics, with their hope of reward in a future life, would be ridiculous to Epicurus. The Platonic origin of Utopian communism also is evident, for Epicurus thought that the holding of property in common by friends implied mutual mistrust. Minor points of divergence are the emphasis upon marriage (in contrast with its disapproval by Epicurus in spite of his traditional devotion to his parents), upon euthanasia (in comparison with Epicurus's denial of suicide even to the blind), and upon learning (Epicurus urged his disciples to fly from learning in the swiftest ship available). Utopians love their gardens, but for practical rather than philosophical purposes, so that, surprisingly, no reference is made in Utopia to the connection between Epicurus and gardens.

raphael hythlodaeus

The unconscious pull of Platonism and Stoicism, not to mention Christianity, is too great to allow a full-fledged Epicureanism in Utopia. This is perfectly consistent, however, with the engrossing character of the main narrator, Raphael Hythlodaeus, who is a philosopher by nature and profession and interjects mild expressions of disapproval of Utopian hedonism. He is unattached: His only commitment is to freedom, truth, and justice. Negligent in dress, he has divested himself of the cares of riches by giving his patrimony to his relatives. He now lives as he pleases (according to Cicero's definition of freedom), and he must speak his mind openly. In spite of being accused of too great speculativeness and idealism by Thomas More, he travels and searches for something quite practical: the good state and the good citizen. In this emphasis on the useful, and in his return to the sources (especially the Greek), Hythlodaeus is at one with the early English, as well as the northern, Renaissance. In his chosen field of philosophy, he finds nothing of value in Latin except Seneca and Cicero. But he is far from being narrow. The great books in Greek that he carries with him include Plato and Plutarch, as well as Aristotle and Theophrastus, dramatists, poets, historiansand Lucian. Devotion to Lucian undoubtedly helped to mark More's philosophical character as his friends saw himas "another laughing Democritus." More's emphasis upon the Greek sources in medicine (Galen and Hippocrates) and science (Aristotle's Meteorology ) makes him, in a sense, an unwitting scientific reactionary.

plato's influence

Of all the Greek authors, Plato is cited most frequently in the Utopia proper and in its preliminary materials. This is hardly surprising, since its true title may be translated as The Best Order of Society (De Optimo Reipublicae Statu ). More is indebted, however, as much to Plato's Laws as to his Republic. His obvious but modified borrowings from Plato are dialogic form, but with a monologue in Book II; communism, which he broadens to embrace a whole nation, not merely an elite class; preeminence of learning, with transformation of the philosopher-king into the scholar-governor; the almost complete equality of men and women; and the connections between goodness and religion. The differences are radical: Utopia is a casteless democracy, not an aristocracy; and the family, not a ruling class with common wives and children, is the basic social and political unit. It is significant that More also briefly introduces the Aristotelian objections to communism of property.

pleasure and the best society

It is a tribute to More's rhetoric (not philosophy) that the unwary reader is left under the impression that the Utopians espouse thoroughgoing hedonism. But this does not involve merely a humanistic jeu d'esprit or even a literary tour de force, for pleasure is related intimately to the main subject of the Utopia, the best society. The best society is one whose aim is the temporal well-being or happinessor pleasure, as defined and described in Utopian termsof all the citizens, not only of the rich or of the well-born. All are to share equally and equitably in all the good thingsor pleasuresof this life and this world: food, clothes, houses, work, play, sleep, and education. More bridges the gap between Utopian philosophy and Utopian communism by the use of the basically Aristotelian phrase "the matter of pleasure" (materia voluptatis ). Vital commodities (food, clothing, housing) constitute the pleasurable matter, which must be determined by a form (either private ownership or common possession). The Utopians have chosen communism, not private property, to bring the greatest pleasure to the whole nation. Only in this way will justice be introduced into an unjust society. In this at least theoretical espousal of communism, More agreed with Erasmus and many fellow humanists.

weaknesses

On the debit side of the Utopia might be listed the deliberately static nature of this ideal society and the failure to recognize the individual person and his basic instincts, liberties, and even imperfections. The removal of all struggle and all insecurity would logically and psychologically lead to the prayer: "Give me something to desire."

influence

The major influence of the Utopia lies not in its philosophic hedonism, with its concomitant communism, but in its establishment of a pattern for ideal commonwealths. Historically the type proliferated into a thousand different forms that can be found discussed in bibliographies and commentaries. In particular, the Utopia itself set an example for what might be termed the philosophical utopia that continued well into the eighteenth century. The most notable productions are Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, Tommaso Campanella's City of the Sun, and Samuel Johnson's Rasselas.

See also Aristotelianism; Aristotle; Augustine, St.; Bacon, Francis; Colet, John; Communism; Diogenes Laertius; Erasmus, Desiderius; Epicureanism and the Epicurean School; Epicurus; Ficino, Marsilio; Galen; Hedonism; Hippocrates and the Hippocratic Corpus; Johnson, Samuel; Lipsius, Justus; Luther, Martin; Pico della Mirandola, Count Giovanni; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Pleasure; Plutarch of Chaeronea; Renaissance; Seneca, Lucius Annaeus; Stoicism; Theophrastus; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Universals, A Historical Survey; Utopias and Utopianism; Valla, Lorenzo; Vives, Juan Luis.

Bibliography

The best modern edition of More's Latin and English writings is the Yale edition: The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, R. S. Sylvester, executive ed. (New Haven, CT, 19631997), 21 volumes. Vol. IV, Utopia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965), is edited by Edward Surtz and J. H. Hexter. Also see the Selected Works edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), planned in seven volumes, of which two have appeared: Selected Letters, E. F. Rogers, ed. (1961), and Utopia, Edward Surtz, ed. (1964). E. F. Rogers had previously edited More's Correspondence (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947). Only the first two volumes of a contemplated seven-volume modern version of More's English Works (1557), edited by W. E. Campbell, were issued (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 19271931).

More's best biographers are the earliest: William Roper, The Lyfe of Sir Thomas Moore, edited by E. V. Hitchcock (London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1935); and Nicholas Harpsfield, The Life and Death of St. Thomas Moore, edited by E. V. Hitchcock and R. W. Chambers (London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1932). The best modern life is still R. W. Chambers, Thomas More (London, 1935), to be supplemented by E. E. Reynolds, Saint Thomas More (London: Burns and Oates, 1953).

Bibliographical data can be found in St. Thomas More: A Preliminary Bibliography to the Year 1750, compiled by R. W. Gibson, with a bibliography of Utopiana compiled by R. W. Gibson and J. M. Patrick (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961). Also see F. and M. P. Sullivan, Moreana, 14781945 (Kansas City, MO: Rockhurst College, 1945). In 1963, the international Amici Thomae Mori began publication of Moreana: Bulletin Thomas More (Angers).

Illuminating studies of the background can be found in W. E. Campbell, Erasmus, Tyndale, and More (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1949); Fritz Caspari, Humanism and the Social Order in Tudor England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954); Pearl Hogrefe, The Sir Thomas More Circle (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1959); R. P. Adams, The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives on Humanism, War, and Peace (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962); and especially G. Marc'hadour, L'univers de Thomas More (Paris: Vrin, 1963), corrected and supplemented currently in Moreana.

The principal interpretations of Utopia are those by Karl Kautsky, Thomas More and His Utopia (1888), translated by H. J. Stenning (reprinted, New York: Russell and Russell, 1959); H. W. Donner, Introduction to Utopia (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1945); Russell Ames, Citizen Thomas More and His Utopia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949); J. H. Hexter. More's "Utopia": The Biography of an Idea (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952); Edward Surtz, The Praise of Pleasure: Philosophy, Education, and Communism in More's "Utopia" (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957); and Edward Surtz, The Praise of Wisdom: A Commentary on the Religious and Moral Problems and Backgrounds of St. Thomas More's "Utopia" (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1957).

The fate of the utopia as a literary form can be followed in Richard Gerber, Utopian Fantasy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1955); J. O. Hertzler, The History of Utopian Thought (New York: Macmillan, 1923); and G. R. Negley and J. M. Patrick, eds., The Quest for Utopia (New York: Schuman, 1952).

See also Michael Jackson, "Imagined Republics: Machiavelli, Utopia, and Utopia," Journal of Value Inquiry (34[4] [2000]: 427437; Anthony Kenny, Thomas More (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

Edward Surtz, S.J. (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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