More’s Utopia: Was There A Risk Of Persecution?

“Was More risking persecution by the Church for writing Utopia?”

Personally, I don’t think so. Although Thomas More was later executed, it was not because of his book, but rather about his loyalty: “God’s first and the king’s second.” There is nothing in Utopia that attacks the Church. More does suggest some reforms, indirectly, for the Church, like more religious freedom, more priestly piety, but he doesn’t attack the Church saying they are wrong, must reform, and so on. Also, More said at the end of the book that he didn’t agree to all the ideas presented by the Traveler in the book.

“In the meanwhile, though it must be confessed that he (Raphael, the traveler) is both a very learned man, and a person who has obtained a great knowledge of the world, I cannot perfectly agree to everything he has related; however, there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.”

Therefore, I think that More did not risk persecution by the Church.

The Great Western Schism

The Great Western Schism (1378 – 1415) should not be confused with the Great Schism of 1054, which was the separation of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church (see this article). This schism was a temporary one where there were two popes.

The Italian Pope Urban VI was appointed in 1378. He was well known for his even temperament. However, when he was elected he became slightly erratic and would strike clergy and papal officers for no apparent reason. This strange behavior led the Cardinals to elect a second pope, Clement VII.

Pope Clement VII was French. But, when he came to take up the office of pope, Urban would not resign. So, Clement moved to Avignon, France and Urban stayed in Rome, Italy. Thus the Great Western Schism began—a temporary separation of France and allies from Italy and their allies.

The end of this absurd Western Schism came with the Council of Constance (1414 – 1418). In order to solve the issue a third pope was elected in 1415, Pope Martin V. However, it was not until 1418 that Urban and Clement resigned from office and the Great Western Schism came to an end.


The Great Schism

The Great Schism in 1054 was the separation of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church in the West. This division occurred due to differences between the two churches.

One irreconcilable difference was that they both had separate liturgies. The rituals were different and the Eastern Church used icons to represent saints and holy figures such as Jesus. There was also a language barrier. While in the East they used Greek, in the Western Catholic Church Latin was spoken.

However, probably the greatest animosity resulted from the fact that the Byzantine Church had a lesser status than then Western Church. Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, declared that they were the new Rome, as they had been the remnant of the Old Roman Empire. But the West disagreed saying that Rome was fit to be the center of the Church because the city was founded by the Apostles.

The last straw to this intellectual battle came when the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, ordered all Western churches in the East to be closed. Finally, in 1054 the two churches separated and have remained so ever since.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) was a wealthy Italian who, after attending the University of Naples for five years, became a Dominican friar at age nineteen. Later on, Aquinas became an extremely influential scholastic philosopher and theologian, who attempted to merge the teachings of Aristotle with the Catholic Church’s doctrine. Continue reading