(Hans Holbein) A painting of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger
You can’t always blindly trust what you read in a textbook, as I found on the only occasion I was excited about what a textbook had to say. In A History of Western Society (McKay) (this link might be a slightly different edition than the one I was reading), a very familiar name jumped out at me- Charterhouse.
Charterhouse (shown as the featured image) is the school my dad attended as a teenager, and the school to which I was emphatically denied application by my father. According to McKay, Thomas More was “a student in the London Charterhouse, a Carthusian monastery,” (McKay 416). Interested in how a Charterhouse education influenced such a prominent Renaissance figure, I decided to do some more research.
Wikipedia claims that More was actually educated at St. Anthony’s, (Iconoclasm) and only stayed at the London Charterhouse (which is different than the school my dad went to) for “spiritual recuperation” (London Charterhouse), which (in a nerdy way) was fairly disappointing. While on Wikipedia, I became intrigued with More’s Utopia– the description of the optimal society, especially so with More’s description of Utopian religion. Being a strongly religious man himself, I was interested to hear what More thought was the ideal religious society.
What was most interesting to me was that Thomas More seemed to practice what he preached. In Utopia, it was believed that if a person had a strong desire not to die, it meant that his or her soul was reluctant to face judgement in afterlife (Wikisource). Facing his execution, More was exceptionally calm. According to Peter Berglar in his book, Thomas More: a lonely voice against the power of the state, More told the man who condemned him to death, “So, I hope- and pray with all my heart for it- that although you have condemned me here on earth, we shall meet for our eternal salvation in heaven,” (Berglar 204). Anecdotally, More is also claimed to have told his executioner, “Have courage, lad, do not be afraid to carry out your duty. I have a short neck; so be careful to strike a sure blow so that you are not taken for a mere beginner at your job” (Berglar 208). If More really did believe that fear of death meant an impure heart, then More’s friend, Desiderius Erasmus must be correct in saying More’s soul was, “’more pure than any snow’,” (Iconoclasm).
Utopia is home to a mix of religions- not just each on their own turf (Zoroastrians over here, Jewish people over there, sort of thing), but multiple religions coexist in the cities. To support this vitalizing “religious smoothie” if you will, one of the ancient laws of Utopia is that, “no man ought to be punished for his religion,” (Wikisource). Also, the only tactic allowed to try to convert people to a new religion is persuasion. Any other technique- violence, threat, hostility- is not allowed and is punishable by slavery or exile. The founder of Utopia, Utopus reportedly believed it was, “indecent and foolish for any man to threaten and terrify another to make him believe what did not appear to him to be true,” (Wikisource). Published in 1516, More could not have known the Act of Succession was coming, much less that his choice not to sign it would cost him his life. 18 years before King Henry the VIII’s split from the Catholic Church, More is already preaching the right to choose one’s own religion and that violence should not be the response to differing beliefs. That should give us a fairly good clue about his opinions on Henry’s Reformation.
“London Charterhouse.” Wikipedia. N.p., 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Charterhouse>
“Utopia/Chapter 9.” Wikisource, The Free Library. 5 Sep 2011, 11:51 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8 Feb 2012 <//en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Utopia/Chapter_9&oldid=3364110>.
Berglar, Peter. Thomas More: a lonely voice against the power of the state. New York, NY: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 1999. Print.
Iconoclasm, zantine. “Thomas More – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_more>.
McKay, John P.. A history of Western society. 9th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Print.
Hans Holbein. Sir Thomas More (1478-1535). N.d. Frick Collection, New York.Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. Web. 13 Feb. 2012.