Billericay week 4 summary.


Week 4: Luther (1483 - 1546), Calvin (1509 - 1564), the Reformation and St Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ (1516)




Luther and Calvin


Thomas More


1. General Introduction:

What connections are there between:

1.1 religious and political thought  - noting 1.2: the lack of clear correspondence,

1.3 religious conflict and political conflict,

1.4 social/political conditions and religious beliefs?


2. The Protestant Reformation - definitions:

2.1 The Reformation: an attempt to restore the spiritual purity of Christianity, which led to a radical split in Western Christianity between Protestantism and Catholicism.

2.2 Protestantism: against the corruption of the Church; for the individual conscience (against external authority) - for “faith” rather than “deeds”;

2.3 the democratisation of the church;

2.4 less rituals

2.5 spiritual purity and the “inner policeman” - guilt.


3. The Reformation, Renaissance, and Humanism:

3.1 The end of an era of Christian domination in thinking: limitations of ‘natural law’ approach; still some mediaeval aspects, together with modernisation.

3.2 A violent age: peasant uprisings, later: mutual persecution of Catholics and Protestants; 3.3 science, printing, exploration, the universities;

3.4 trade and new social classes (bourgeoisie, working class), economic & political freedom;

3.5 humanistic, anthropocentric;

3.6 consequences of decline in papal power: growth of monarchy (supported by bourgeoisie), rise of the nation-state

3.7 political conflict and religious conflict.


4. Luther

4.1: Quote 1 - individual relationship with God à 4.2: Quote 5 “priesthood of all believers”.

4.3 influence of St Augustine: (i) justification by faith (ii) two kingdoms, Quotes 2 & 3: obedience (passive obedience) to the state, state as ‘external control’

4.4: confrontation with the church

4.5: Quote 6: hostility to peasant uprisings (Anabaptists).

4.6: ‘Protestantism’

4.7: Conclusion: aimed to free the individual Christian, but Lutheranism became a state church.


5. Calvin (in brief only!): The most significant effect of Calvinism is (in the ‘Protestant work ethic’ etc) providing the conditions for capitalism to develop. Although, like Luther, Calvin believed church and state were separate, in practice where his ideas were taken up (e.g. Geneva a “city of glass”) a kind of ‘theocracy’ was established. However, where Calvinists were in a minority a doctrine of the right to resist was developed…


6. Thomas More’s Utopia (1516).



6.1 “Utopia” – ‘no place’ or ‘beautiful place.’ “Utopian” writing: the creation of “a world that cannot be, but where one fervently wishes to be… [a world] tantalizingly existing on the edge of possibility”. (A. Kumar: Utopianism, OUP 1991).


Common features of ‘utopias’: memory of a “golden age” – dreams of a future ideal time – an ideal city. Or: “dystopias.”

May try to explain – or simply to describe. Or may recommend (normative), or critique. More’s book puzzling in this respect... 

Useful in political philosophy because reveal/question assumptions about: human nature, change, social order, values etc


An imaginative leap from this reality to another.


Different approaches to ‘utopias’: authoritarian (glorify state or community at expense of citizens) or libertarian (freedom and diversity)


Their value? Useful: because represent ideals, hopes, dreams, visions... or critiques of existing society. Not useful: because ignore reality; or: ‘my utopia isn’t yours’ (Roger Scruton: uniformity is wrong); danger of imposing a blueprint (Karl Popper).


6.2 More (1478 – 1535): his times and character.

The times.

Humanism. The Renaissance (‘rebirth’ of classical learning) – exploration, science, knowledge (universities, printing) à new views on: God and religion, language (national character), the nature of time, the human body. (Shakespeare, Da Vinci). 


But there were still medieval/feudal features: religious conflict (e.g. Anabaptists and peasant uprisings – see Luther), public executions, inequality. Beginnings of capitalism  Henry’s conflict with the Church, and More executed for refusing to sign oath of allegiance attached to Act of Succession (for his silence…). 


More’s character.

Contradictions: gentle martyr/persecuting Lord Chancellor (wrote obscene pamphlets attacking protestants, and sent many to be burnt); utopian reformer/high role in the state. More ‘medieval schoolman’ than a renaissance statesman (wrote in Latin for small audience). Monastic outlook – self-restraint. Utopia to shame Christians by comparing them unfavourably with heathens? 


Beatified in 1886, canonised ‘as a saint of the church of Rome’ in 1935.


6.3 Themes in Utopia – see the extracts.