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by Thomas More

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Thomas More is the only person in history to be honored both as a Catholic saint and as one of the heroes of the revolution in Moscow’s Red Square. These honors are hard to reconcile, which—when one considers all the contradictions in the life of More—is appropriate.

More was a faithful Catholic—so faithful, in fact, that he acquiesced to execution when all he had to do to avoid this fate was acknowledge that Henry VIII, and not the pope, was the head of the church in England. But More was far from a blind follower of the orthodoxy of the day; as a close friend of Erasmus he was well aware of the failings of the Catholic Church. He didn’t believe merely because authorities told him to believe; he thought carefully about his faith.

He thought carefully about how his faith might impact the world around him, as well. As Lord Chancellor, he held power second only to the king, and in this role he was used to wrestling with economic, political, and legal questions. But his answers were seldom the pat answers of a Catholic priest.

These contradictions become most evident in his classic Utopia. Although More distances himself from his narrative, implying that the policies of Utopia are not necessarily the policies that he would recommend, ultimately they belong to him. Many of them are as jarring as anything recommended by Plato in his Republic; for example, More argues that the perfect society would not allow Christians to be outspoken about sharing their faith!

The social experiment begins to sound like that of a mad scientist when More famously recommends his Adam and Eve’s pools, where potential grooms may view their fiancées bathing naked (and vice versa), so that they can be sure there are no blemishes that would make them regret their marriage vows.

Needless to say, teachers won’t lack for topics of discussion when their students read Utopia. And although students will not agree with all of More’s recommendations, they should learn to emulate More in one important respect, seeking to understand their faith as a total worldview.

by Jeff Baldwin