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Near the ending of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century, Northern Europe confronted a strong force from Christian Humanism. The Catholic Churches were tackling abuses problems that were dealt with by this movement. In other words, avoidance and elimination of immorality from society were one of the major objectives of Christian Humanism. In this regard, one of the prominent activists was Thomas More who became a part of this movement with the help of Erasmus and John Colet.
One of the foremost texts of Thomas More is Utopia, which will be discussed in this paper with the evaluation of his thoughts related to Christian Humanism. In addition, the paper will try to understand the relationship of Utopia with the development of Classical Utopian thought, as well as, with the Christian Idealism that are some of the major themes of More’s text. (McGrath, pp. 23-25, 2001)
The true opinions of Thomas More
Utopia has signified the state of society during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In addition, situations when a man primarily conflicts with his age have been discussed in the text. However, several experts have interpreted the Utopia text of Thomas More in several variations, which have been based on political, social, educational, and cultural norms and values. Moreover, most of the experts have confronted enormous challenges at the time of understanding the true opinions of Thomas More, especially the society that has been represented by the writer. One of the complexities in Utopia is its style that is quite vague and sometimes, it does not go along with the rest of the text.
Furthermore, the reader becomes more complicated by the provision of even further paradoxes in the text. Especially, the themes of war and religion have been described in a very complicated and contradictory manner by More. However, Thomas More has been able to hypothesize several fundamental opinions regarding society as an expression of Christian Idealism. (Jones, pp. 63-67 2003)
The text of Utopia has presented the attitude of the writer in opposition to crime and punishment. Some of the subjects that have been dealt with by the writer are the expansions of the financial system of England, tribulations in the political affairs with law, and generally, with the ethics and assets of the Christian society. The themes of war and spiritual toleration are some of the subjects that have created enormous paradoxes in the text, as earlier mentioned in the paper.
This paper will try to analyze the apparent matters related to English society in the early sixteenth century while comparing it with the other insights of culture. Therefore, it is very important to describe a little bit about the writer, Thomas More with the relation of his text with the Classical Utopian thought, as it is very essential to understand the personality of the writer, to understand his expressions related to Christian Humanism. (Jacoby, pp. 70-72, 2007)
As mentioned above, the writer was a devoted scholar of the movement of Christian Humanism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He took his education from the Oxford University while continuing his law studies in London city, which was an ambition of his parents. A large family fortune was the dream of his father, a successful lawyer, who wanted the writer to follow the path of his father. During his law studies in London, the Christian Humanism movement influenced him a lot and several historians have claimed that he even went for the Carthusian monastic life. In the year 1509, he was made under-Sherriff in London, the same year when he was teaching law in the same city.
As the result, he was able to observe and evaluate different cultures and values of life in London as an adviser, speaker, and professor. In the year 1516, he was sent to a mission for the improvement of political links with Flanders by Henry VIII and Wolsey. This period is taken as the beginning of Utopia, as a lot of free time was available to Thomas More during his mission of Flanders.
Family life was More has been very dynamic and the education of his four children was emphasized greatly by him. Interestingly, he also encouraged the female members of his family to take interest in education, which was not a usual practice in that era. Erasmus was a longtime friend of Thomas More who played a vital role in influencing the writer with the Christian Humanist movement. It has been observed that a lot of work of Erasmus played an encouraging role for Thomas More in writing Utopia and expressing the true Christian idealism through his writings. Moreover, most historians have considered the major role of Erasmus in supporting and persuading Thomas for his judgments and attitude against the social evils of society. (Jones, pp. 44-47, 2003)
Moreover, the brief expression of immediate conditions and incidents of Utopia is very important to understand the Utopia of Thomas More as a reflection of the Christian Humanist movement in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Utopia was written at different locations, as Thomas had to travel to different places during his mission. In this regard, he worked as an ambassador in the Netherlands, then he spent a major period of his life in London, and lastly, he played his role as a councilor for the Government of Henry VIII. Thus, all these periods and locations have influenced the writing of Utopia by Thomas More. In addition, the issues of society and the expression of the ideal society of Utopia have been discussed in Utopia by the presentation of the conversation of a writer with a character, Raphael Hythlodeaus. (More, pp. 88-91, 2005)
Furthermore, property and extravagance are some of the initial weaknesses that have been discussed and expressed in the text of Utopia and have played the role of a door opener for the discussion of other issues in it. In some of the texts of Utopia, the writer has expressed his opinions with the help of conversations that have considered the theme of getting justice based on the money factor, and not on the truth.
One of the major social evils of that century was the wealth and money that was considered as the only tool of acquiring power in the society. The writer has tried to present his opinion against this practice that has provided misery to thousands of people at that time. In other words, acquiring private property was something opposed by More in his text. He practically opposed this social evil by inviting friends to his house generously, as well as, allowing people to visit his home.
Reasons of opposition to Thomas More
However, one of the major reasons for arguing over private property was that society confronts several other problems due to it according to Thomas More. Several experts have related communism with More’s emphasis on private property. However, communism was not considered by More, and the unnecessary showing of wealth and extreme desire for property and money was something that was opposed by him. For instance, only five percent of London’s population was having more than eighty percent of the total wealth in the year 1522, which can provide that rest of the population was confronting poverty, which was greatly argued and opposed by the Christian Humanist movement, as well as, not acceptable in the Christian Idealism.
Secondly, Thomas More opposed the extravagance of society regarding clothes and food. An anecdotal expression was used by more to contemplate the issue of extravagance in the Utopia, as he regarded the precious stones as important due to the people, and not due to their value, which was not accepted by high classes of the society. For instance, he has taken the example of a sheep that used to wear fine clothes but never turned into something superior. Thus, he strictly criticized the higher classes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to avoid the superfluous spread of wealth by fashionable and expensive clothes.
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Utopia has reflected the Christian Humanist movement by considering one of the key social and economic problems, greediness. During the 15th and 16th centuries, thousands of people were living under the line of poverty. One of the causes of poverty was the land enclosure that was criticized and opposed by More in his Utopia. In other words, the land enclosure was considered the reason for crime and illegal offenses due to the high rate of population and less availability of land in the society.
In addition, Thomas More expressed in Utopia that the poor were affected by the courts in various ways. However, the institutionalization of inequality was done by the law, which was considered the major problem by More. Furthermore, lawyers were criticized by More, which was once again an expression of the Christian Humanist movement. The complexity of the law, especially in London was condemned by More in his Utopia, as he believed that complexities resulted in more chances of crimes by poor people and criminals, and it was just increasing the ineffectiveness of the law. It is quite clear that the functioning of the legal system of England was not up to the standards of the complex law of the country, which resulted in the argument of More through Utopia. (More, pp. 50-5, 2005)
Finally, the war was significantly criticized by More and considered as the tool of providing suffering and illness to humanity, rather than any happiness. He expressed his opinions in the favor of Christian Idealism through presenting his ideas towards the discussions, rather than wars, which was condemned in Christianity. Fundamentally, religion was significantly discussed in Utopia. He expressed his opinion that different religions should be tolerated by each other.
In the Classical Utopian thoughts, a person is not allowed to attack any other religions bitterly. Thus, he greatly condemned the utilization of war tools, to oppose the different religions. In other words, toleration of religions was one of the major principles and beliefs of Thomas More that he has expressed through the Utopia. Lastly, it is believed that this paper will be useful material for a better understanding of Utopia by Thomas More.
Thomas More. (2005). Utopia. Cambridge University Press.
Tod E. Jones. (2003). The Broad Church. Lexington Books.
Alister E. McGrath. (2001). Christian Theology. Blackwell Publishing.
Russell Jacoby. (2007). Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age. Columbia University Press.