by Ricardo Gacayan, Jr.
In December 1516, Thomas More wrote ‘Utopia’. He coined the word ‘utopia’ from the Greek ‘ou-topos’ meaning ‘no place’ or ‘nowhere’. But this was a pun – the almost identical Greek word ‘eu-topos’ means a ‘good place’.
More was an English lawyer, scholar, writer, Member of Parliament, and chancellor in the reign of Henry VIII.
In Utopia, the commonwealth was ruled by elected officials, its population wisely distributed among 54 cities.
Every city sends three of their wisest senators once a year to Amaurot [the capital] to consult about their common concerns.
They have built over all the country, farmhouses for husbandmen, which are well contrived, and are furnished with all things necessary for country labour.
They have but few laws, and such is their constitution that they need not many.
They have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters, and to wrest the laws.
Every one of them is skilled in their law, for as it is a very short study, so the plainest meaning of which words are capable is always the sense of their laws.
The Utopians shared their surpluses with one another, helped each other out and built a store of gold to be prepared for a disaster.
They developed a culture where ostentation and vulgar displays of money were seen as pathetic and childish.
Priests in Utopia were universally respected because there were very few of them, and all were chosen for their wisdom and virtue.
As we all know, ‘Utopia’ is a depiction of an imaginary republic ruled by reason and intended as a satire on the strife-ridden reality of contemporary Europe that concerns politics, meddling priests, rulers often corrupt, and the ever widening social cleavage between rich and poor.
More wanted reform especially the church he belongs to by combinations of recommendations and sarcastic prod. Using classical reasoning and rational debate, honed with a healthy dose of ridicule, he would blow away the dusts of ignorance, corruptions and vices, and lead to a more equal and true Christian society.
Months later on 31 October 1517, a game changer episode that shook Europe at its core happened. Martin Luther, a professor of theology, posted the ninety-five theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther established the three major doctrines that put an immovable wedge between Roman Catholic and Evangelical (Protestant). These are: Sola Fide (salvation is by faith alone not by works), Sola Scriptura (the bible alone is the source of divinely revealed knowledge of God and basis of Christian living), and Priesthood of all believers.
Luther wants reforms too, but unlike More who looked for gradual change from within, Luther wishes immediate social change via religious realignment as he was convinced that what he put forward was the true Christianity. He was also adamant that if anyone, especially those in authorities disagree with him, it was because they were misled by the devil. Printing press was instrumental for Luther and he was able to use it for the propagation of his theses and other theology. This makes Germany divided into a two camps. His view was the last element for the perfect storm that was brewing at that time. Then, social and religious unrest ensued that resulted to a revolt of the oppressed peasantry, and a backlash by the upper class in which tens of thousands died.
More was aware of this. He blamed Luther for the social and religious bedlam that followed after the publication of his theses. At this juncture, Henry VIII was still a devout catholic and More was a willing conduit to foil the new Protestant teachings. More spearheaded a confiscation of Protestant books and incarcerated propagators and sympathisers, some were executed. This was a far cry from the religious tolerance of Utopia. There was no two ways about his desire to stop Protestantism from imbedding itself to the English shore. More saw Protestantism as a destructive theology causing conflict and social discontent and plunging Europe into bloodshed.
More witnessed the extent of the divisions in Europe and predicted the fate of Catholicism in England. Under the behest of Henry VIII, by this time a Protestant, More was arrested for treason for not repudiating the pope and accepting the former’s marriage annulment. As More gasped his last breathe while laying his head for execution, he was fully abreast that the best chance to put Utopia into reality was missed, maybe forever.
Regardless of how we want to effect change either the Moreian way or the Lutheran way, I am wondering if the Philippines had a few opportunities missed during the previous people power revolutions or we failed to put the right person to occupy the most powerful seat in the land.
There might be a lacuna magna from where we are now to Utopia. However, the onus is on us to put the country to a road leading towards it. Unless, we are More than Luther.