This year is the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of the book that kept More’s name alive in England and elsewhere after his ignominious execution in 1535. He wrote Utopia in Latin and referred to it as Nusquama (nowhere, in Greek utopos).
That new word “utopia” was to have a long and tragic history down the centuries on revolutionary projects to change nations and even the world. Marxists celebrated More (even in the Red Square until recently) as a pioneer.
Those who admire Saint Thomas More as a martyr, a man of conscience and moral integrity, a devout family man, and a public servant of surpassing honesty, should perhaps take advantage of this anniversary and read the little book or even discuss it with others.
As with some classic works, it may seem boring at times but, if read as More wanted you can benefit from it. Yes, the book looks a fantastic joke, but More eagerly desired readers to be challenged with great ideas and possibilities for them and the world.
The book would not have been possible without the old medieval longing for Church reform, the new studies in the humanities, and the discovery of the New World.
The book is indeed a fantasy but, as in the best fantasies, there are sudden expressions of down-to-earth insights as it unveiling humour humanity’s pride and envy, our religious intolerance, our greed and laziness, our obsession with possessions.
Today scholars see Utopia as a model to analyze society, social and economic behavior, in order to improve it even if only by a few small steps, week after week, year after year. Like all great books (or works of art) it engages the reader’s intelligence and sense of responsibility.
More’s Utopia should work on us as a joy of what we can become if we want to, and of the kind of society and culture and, in the case of Christians, the Church we can build if we put our mind and heart to it.
Never mind that Utopians have never heard of Jesus or the Bible or the Church or even the seven sacraments. That was not only a joke, but a powerful and much needed reprimand to the hierarch and Christian believers. The whole nation of Utopia seems to be one family, free from the inhumane competition that consumes so much goodness and talent. There is not one poor man on the island and terrific respect (not only material care) for the elderly. You could go on and on.
Read this great little book. It is a celebration of the human spirit and soon you will be celebrating small changes in attitude and behavior in the great island of real life.
Alvaro de Silva is CTS author of Thomas More. His first novel, Camina la noche, was published last year in Barcelona, Spain. He has just finished “Rich & Poor”, a book on poverty “as social disaster and personal liberty” in the works and life of Thomas More.