Utopian Society Thinkers Thomas More Part 1

About the famous religious thinker Thomas More, history and description of his proposed utopian society.


THOMAS MORE (1478-1535)

Almost all his adult life, Thomas More wore a horsehair shirt next to his skin for self-mortification; sometimes it drew enough blood to stain his clothes. To know this, however, is not to know the whole man. He was incredibly complex-a worldly-wise, sophisticated courtier; a shrewd lawyer; a bigot with an awesome command of invective; a religious man who believed in miracles. Though he yielded a bit to the widespread corruption of the courts, he was one of the few judges to refuse presents in return for favorable judgments. Cautious, he never willingly leapt into dangerous situations, yet he died for his beliefs when, with the utterance of one sentence, he could have saved his own life.

Erasmus, who was More's friend, Described him as of medium height, with pale skin and auburn hair, careless in his dress, cheerful, and inclined to jokes and pranks. "All the birds in Chelsea came to him to be fed," Erasmus said. "What did Nature ever create milder, sweeter, and happier than the genius of Thomas More?"

The son of a barrister and justice, More was born in London, educated at St. Anthony's school, then placed in the household of Archbishop Thomas Morton, lord chancellor of England, who said of him, "this child here waiting at table... will prove a marvelous man." Morton entered More in Canterbury Hall at Oxford, but the boy did not complete his studies there.

In 1499 More met Erasmus and became a humanist. They both disliked Scholastic philosophy. The study of its subtleties, More said, was as profitable as milking a he-goat into a sieve. Both men wanted to reform the Catholic Church from within; in fact More, early in his life, considered becoming a monk. Instead, he became a successful lawyer and in 1504 was elected to Parliament. The following year, he married Jane Culte, by whom he had three daughters and a son. When Jane died six years later, he married Alice Middleton, a widow.

In 1516 More wrote Utopia (from the Greek for "nowhere"), which was printed abroad in six Latin editions before it was published in England. (Its original title, incidentally, was Nusquama, from the Latin for "nowhere.")

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