Thursday, March 5, 2009

The English Accident-Part I

Catholic thinker Hilaire Belloc posited that the English Reformation (The Reformation in England) was an Accident. He believed this because King Henry VIII and his people were thoroughly Catholic, in both mind and manner, as well as belief. What caused this break was not an attack on the Church-the priesthood, the sacraments, the doctrines-but was a schism in order to obtain a divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon of Spain. Belloc also posited that had England not fell, Europe would have been saved from the Protestant movement.
It would have died out as all other previous ones had.

This "accidental" circumstance in England is very different than what was going on at the same time in the Empire (the German nation-states-the Lutheran movement) as well as in Geneva where John Calvin was spreading his brand of Protestantism. The difference between the Reformation in England and in Geneva can be understood by noting that during Henry VIII's "series of unfortunate events," the mass and the whole of Catholic life continued to be celebrated and lived as it had been for more than a thousand years. At the same exact time in history (1530s) in Geneva, the Protestants had taken control of the nation-state and by 1535, the mass was banned. The idea of banning the mass in England, however, would have been a horrifying thought to the monarch.

The impetus in denying papal authority for Henry was his selfishness in wanting Anne Boleyn to be his wife. He had wanted her to be his mistress as her older sister had been, but she refused and insisted on being his wife---and Queen. Church historian Warren Carroll argued that the whole argument of Henry's desire to produce a male heir is exaggerated and that it was his obsession with Anne that led to the schism. Henry had already produced an heir, Mary Tudor, with his legitimate wife, Catherine. The Pope had granted Henry the permission to hold a Tribunal to discuss the marriage case but that the final decision would be Rome's. The fact that the Pope allowed such an ecclesiastical court to gather was novelty in itself!

Cardinal Wolsey, the Archbishop, convinced Henry that Pope Clement VII would grant him an annulment from Catherine. When he turned out to be wrong, Wolsey was replaced by St. Thomas More.

However, it was not Henry, but his prime minister Thomas Cromwell (see picture), who is understood to be the true creator and architect of the English reformation. Here's his novel contribution: (it reminds me the serpent whispering in Eve's ear...)

"Henry, why does the Church have to be controlled by the Pope? You could be the head of the Church in England."

Besides this idea, Cromwell also convinced Henry to dissolve ALL the monasteries in England. By 1540, Henry, Cromwell, and the avaricious nobility had run all the religious out and had seized the wealth and the lands for themselves. Interestingly enough, that same year, 1540, Cromwell fell out of favor with Henry and was executed. (What good is it to gain the whole world...) The dissolution of the monasteries is what later made it harder to reunite with the Church--they would have to return the lands and money.

Under Cromwell's influence, Henry passed three religious mandates in order to deal with his marital problems, or rather, satiate his sexual appetite:

1. He is the head of the Church, not the Pope.
2. He has the right to approve, reject, modify ecclesiastical laws and books.
3. He must be submitted to by all the clergy and bishops.

"I want, I want, I want, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine, now, now now"---for any of you fellow Hook lovers out there.

St. Thomas More refused these mandates and resigned as Lord Chancellor.

Another major player in the English Reformation is Thomas Cranmer. He became the Archbishop of Canterbury and is known to be a wavering and spineless man. (He took an oath of loyalty to the Pope, then recanted, around six times...)

Under his "blessing," in 1533, the beloved and popular Queen Catherine of Aragon is replaced with Anne Boleyn. Anne gives birth to Elizabeth shortly after the wedding. (Once she was "engaged" to Henry, she submitted to him.) It's so classy when your new "Queen" is a pregnant bride. But anyway...within the same year...

Henry is excommunicated by Pope Clement VII and his marriage is declared invalid. In reaction to the Pope, in 1534 (the Pope is now Paul III), Henry passed the Act of Succession and all bishops were required to take the Oath of Succession denying papal authority. In 1535, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were beheaded at the Tower of London for refusing to take the Oath. Also in 1535, Henry passed the Act of Supremacy, which makes the King of England the Supreme Head of the Church of England. (Where is THAT in the Bible? So much for sola scriptura, aye?) Carthusian monks are martyred for refusing the oath.

Irreconcilable Differences

No, I don't mean the Catholics and Protestants. Remember, England is still Catholic at this time.

Much like a celebrity couple, less than two years later, Henry is less than enchanted with Anne and you know what happens: Off with her head! Easy come, easy go.

In 1549, the still-Catholic Henry had Parliament pass Six Articles Abolishing the Diversity of Opinions:

1. Affirms Transubstantiation
2. Communion of both species not necessary (this was a big Protestant demand)
3. Clerical celibacy must be upheld
4. Vows of chastity must be observed by both sexes
5. Private masses are legitimate (Luther wanted these abolished)
6. Regular confession is good and necessary

He reaffirmed traditional Catholic teaching and dogma.

Henry died--as a Catholic--in 1547 and leaving behind his three kids: Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward.

Coming soon: The English Accident-Part II

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