The Life of Thomas More

[The Life of Thomas More]
Moral assessment: 
Type: Thought
Nothing inappropriate.
Requires prior general knowledge of the subject.
Readers with knowledgeable about the subject matter.
Contains doctrinal errors of some importance.
Whilst not being explicitly against the faith, the general approach or its main points are ambiguous or opposed to the Church’s teachings.
Incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

This English author is a professional historian, a graduate of Cambridge, specializing in the history of London and its important personages. In this biography, Ackroyd seeks to draw a biographical profile of the Chancellor of England, giving special attention to the social context in which he lived. Perhaps for that reason, he gives more priority to the relationship between More’s actions and his education, and tones down or eliminates altogether anything that could sound like unmeasured praise. So, at the end, he gives the reader the impression that Thomas was a good man, a man of his time…but he (Ackroyd) doesn’t seem to know or appreciate to what point Thomas’ actions were due to virtue. It may be that this approach, deep down, is due to the fact that the text never addresses a question very central to understanding the figure of Thomas More: his personal relationship with God and his life of prayer.

One can also see in some pages of the book that the Catholic religion, its liturgy and its morality are understood as being a thing of the past, especially the medieval past, and not something that can also be embodied or lived in the present. Thus the English saint remains anchored in the past and many of his actions would today be considered out of place. Thus, for example, his daily practices of piety are interpreted as a tribute of submission to social custom, as a form of “juridical or legal” obedience to the prevailing system, a sign of which was the influence of the Catholic Church at the time. Together with this, however, one has to recognize that the book offers a rich panorama of characters who surrounded the subject, and who definitely embellish the descriptions of the social atmosphere of the era. Thus, for example, the author describes the life of English religious; the life of Henry VIII and his court; the judicial environment of London; the popular customs of the day; Oxford University during that time; ecclesiastical personages of the era, etc.

All of this is helpful; but aside from these descriptions and other urban details about the city of London, the book does not offer any especially novel information in comparison to the other biographies of More.

H.J.M. (2009)