Thomas More

Biographical Sketch of Thomas More

by Summer Warford, Biola University

hans_holbein_the_younger_-_sir_thomas_more_-_google_art_project

Summary of Life:

  • Born February 4, 1478 in London to John More, a barrister then judge, and Agnes, a wealthy
  • More’s mother died at an early age, we are not sure when, but his father remarried three times.
  • 1490 More entered the household of Archbishop John Morton, the closest advisor of Henry VII
  • 1492 More is nominated by Archbishop Morton for Canterbury College, Oxford where he studied for two years.
  • 1493 More leaves Oxford and begins to study law at New Inn in London.
  • In 1499 he became a monk and subjected himself to the discipline of the Carthusians
  • In 1504 he entered parliament— he urged a decrease in the appropriation for King Henry VII, so Henry imprisoned More’s father and would not release him until a fine was paid and More himself would withdraw from public life.
  • 1505 More concludes that he is not to remain celibate and follows a career in the public life and marries Jane Colt.
  • 1509 More became active again when the king died, and he was appointed undersheriff of London in 1510.
  • 1511 More’s wife dies suddenly at the age of 22, More marries again because of his children to Alice Middleton.
  • 1516 Utopia is published
  • 1518 becomes member of the Privy Council
  • 1521 More is knighted, and after two years was made Speaker of the House of Commons. During this time he became good friends with King Henry VIII
  • 1529 Became lord Chancellor, he was very successful until he refused to support the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon because it was a defiance of papal authority. He resigned in 1532 and withdrew from public notice.
  • In 1534 the king had him imprisoned, and a year later he was put on trial and refused to take an oath of supremacy, because that parliament did not have the right did not have the right to overpower the papal authority to favor the king. He was condemned and sentenced to death.
  • July 7, 1535 He was decapitated. His last words were “kings good servant, but God’s first.”

Influence and Recognition:

Erasmus: Their friendship is regarded as one of the jewels of the renaissance. They shared a love of greek and the belief that being educated in classical literature could create a sound piety in the present and helped reform the church. They met when Erasmus was visiting England in 1499, at a time when Erasmus was very lonely and craving companionship. They did not have much in common, More was a lawyer and Erasmus didn’t trust lawyers, and we don’t know exactly how they became friends. They bonded over their love of rhetoric and even made a sport of it. Whitford, who More addressed one of his publications to, said that More and Erasmus were more alike than twins, because their beliefs were so aligned. They both published translations on Lucian from Greek to Latin, who was not religious and believed that religion was nonsense. Erasmus spent time at Thomas More’s house in London where he wrote “In Praise of Folly”, which when spoken in Latin can sound like “In Praise of More”. He dedicated this work to More, and begged More to defend the work and its author. More differed from Erasmus’s view on the need of love for a Christian and the centrality of it to the Christian life in that he thought the Christian must believe in the dogmas of the church before love could be active. There is some evidence that the work was damaging to their friendship. However, Erasmus in a letter described him as the perfect model of friendship. Erasmus was not shy about his love for More, although we d not have a lot of information on how More really felt about Erasmus.

William Tyndale: More and Tyndale disagreed on predestination, More believed that predestination would be taken as a license to sin, but Tyndale saw it as the predestined loving the law of God. More did not like that by believing the elect, people did not have to do good and be moral to have the gospel, so the community they lived in was less pleasant. These beliefs infringed on More’s love for order. Tenderly made translation decisions that reflected the theological views he had, such as translating Luke 13:3 as “repent” instead of “do penance”. More had the responsibility of getting rid of heretical books, and he did a raid in January of 1526 at the Steelyard where they had been bringing in Lutheran books, but it was too early before the Tyndale translation have come out. Thomas More was frustrated with the books, because there was no way to stop it all.

King Henry VIII: In 1525, the Peasants’ revolt was coming to a bloody end, and Luther was forced to write a letter seeking reconciliation to the king on the basis that the king admit his initial error. The king’s response was harsh, and there is speculation that Thomas More wrote it, essentially saying that the king would not change his mind and that Luther will always be a heretic. When More wrote Utopia, it brought him closer to the king and he became a member of his council.

Luther: He and More share a lot of similarities, from the desires of their fathers for them to their insecurity of their salvation to their struggles with lust. In March of 1518, Erasmus sent a copy of the 95 Theses, and with both More’s and Erasmus’s lack of devotion to the papacy we can believe that they both enjoyed it. In the beginning, More enjoyed Luther and saw him not as a heretic, but only as an extreme augustinian. Eventually More came to see Luther as a threat to the church, especially based on Luther’s writing of Babylonian Captivity of the Church in 1520, which attacked the ancient sacraments of the church. He essentially ended the mediation of the priest, which was central to More.

Thomas More is most known for his writing of Utopia, which analyzed and critiqued the living styles of those in Europe, and his faithfulness to what he believed God commanded, which can be seen in the death he suffered because he would not validate the king’s divorce. He is also known for being a lawyer and his work under king Henry VII. He was known to be a man of extremes in personality and viewpoints, often focussing on the contradictions that exist in the world. He would fixate on the conflict that exists between desire and obligation.

More particularly struggled with the ideal morality as it contrasted with the realities of the world. His goal, which shows up in Utopia, is to have a standard of morality, which comes for Christians, but even non-Christians are held to. This is why he held to papal authority and a priestly mediator, which included the ancient sacraments. He felt that if there was no need to be good, then it would be impossible to have a moral community. He valued his convictions as being a servant of God higher than his servanthood to the king.

Works:

More wrote many letters, both personal and legal letters. He also wrote religious polemics that responded to many of the reformation progressions that took place in Germany, particularly responses to Luther.

More, Thomas, and George M. Logan. The History of King Richard the Third. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005.

This was written in both Latin and English separately, and was not published in his lifetime because of the political problems it would create. This piece works together with Utopia, because More saw Richard as the worst there could have been, as the sum of a bad government leader, valuing ambition and executing hypocrisy.

Ward, Colin, and Colin Smithson. Utopia. Harmondsworth: Penguin Education, 1974.

Utopia was written to illustrate the impossibility of desire and reality in the world, and the standard of morality that should be had. It is an overflow of More’s preoccupation with government and society and the tension between desire and responsibility.

Secondary Works:

Clayton, Joseph. Sir Thomas More: a short study. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1933.

Fox, Alistair. Thomas More: history and providence. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.

Marius, Richard. Thomas More: a biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.

More, Thomas, William Roper, and J. Rawson Lumby. Utopia / the life of Sir Thomas More: William Roper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1879.

More, Thomas, and John M. Headley. The complete works of St. Thomas More. New Haven: Yale University press, 1969.

Bibliography:

Clayton, Joseph. Sir Thomas More: a short study. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1933.

Fox, Alistair. Thomas More: history and providence. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.

Marius, Richard. Thomas More: a biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.

More, Thomas, William Roper, and J. Rawson Lumby. Utopia / the life of Sir Thomas More: William Roper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1879.

More, Thomas, and John M. Headley. The complete works of St. Thomas More. New Haven: Yale Univesrity press, 1969.

More, Thomas, and George M. Logan. The history of King Richard the Third. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005.

Ward, Colin, and Colin Smithson. Utopia. Harmondsworth: Penguin Education, 1974.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s