Monday, September 5, 2022

The Reformation in Britannia (>1534)

Henry 8th (1491-1547, r. >1509)

Establishes a national church

The English Parliament declares Henry 8th, king of England, to be supreme head of a national Church of England in its Act of Supremacy (1534). This gives Henry complete control of the Latin Church in Britannia and disempowers the pope in Rome.

Closes monasteries

Once in control of all the land in Britannia formerly controlled by the Latin Church, Henry closes all monasteries and convents (1536-40). Money is a powerful motive. Their annual income has been three times his. He keeps some of the land, buildings, and treasures for himself, gives some to loyal subordinates, and sells the rest to the highest bidders. He gives pensions to former monks and has former nuns return to their families of origin. Towards the end, some leaders of larger monasteries refuse to comply. Henry has them executed, their buildings destroyed, books and illuminated manuscripts lost, and land confiscated.

Henry succeeds in closing religious houses, in part, because of popular indifference. Increasingly fewer men and women have felt called to join one and the quality of Christian life within them has been in decline for decades.

Authorizes an English Bible

Henry authorizes the printing of a Bible in English and its distribution to all churches (1539). To his surprise, the people of Britannia take an unexpected interest in it, have great enthusiasm for it, and start asking questions about prevailing customs of thought and practice. Henry responds with a law permitting only nobles and wealthy men of commerce access to the Bible.

Edward 6th (1537-1553, r. >1547)

Edward, sole son of Henry, becomes king at the age of nine and dies a mere five years later. It is the boy’s counselors who give the Church of England a form influenced by Calvinist theology.

Changes Sunday worship

The most important change to worship is the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, partially written and wholly edited by Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Archbishop of Canterbury (1533-55). The second edition of the book, published in 1552, continues to serve as the basis of the current (since 1662) official prayer book of the Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer remains the greatest gift of the Anglican tradition to Christ’s Church.

Mary 1st (1516-58, r. >1553)

Restores Latin Church traditions

When her little half-brother Edward dies, Mary becomes queen. She is the older daughter of Catherine of Aragon—the unjustly repudiated first wife of Henry. She commits herself to fully restoring the Latin Church in Britannia with a vengeance.

Persecutes Protestants

Mary has almost 300 leading reformers burned at the stake—hence her nickname, “Bloody Mary.” Hail Jupiter! Thomas Cranmer, one of her victims, dies heroically in the flames. One unintended consequence of Mary’s persecution of English Christians: a virulent prejudice against Latin Christians in Britannia which lasts for centuries.

Restores Latin worship

Mary forbids use of the Book of Common Prayer, thereby restoring the affirmation of Latin Christian theology during Sunday worship, and again has the Mass spoken in Latin.

Cannot restore monastic property

As keen as Mary is to restore the lost Latin Church to Britannia, she is unable to force wealthy purchasers of former monasteries and convents to restore the property to its rightful owners.

Elizabeth 1st (1533-1603, r. >1558)

Follows a middle way

When her older sister Mary dies, Elizabeth becomes queen and reestablishes the distinct Protestant identity of the English Church but strikes a middle way between Calvinist and Latin thought and practice. She seeks to minimize religious strife in her kingdom by creating a church as pleasing to as many of her subjects as possible.

Restores worship in English

Worship on Sundays again ceases to be Catholic and Latin and again becomes Protestant and English.

Meets intolerance

Elizabeth fails to enjoy Latin Christian tolerance for her rule. Paul 4th, pope, judges Elizabeth an illegitimate child of Henry, refuses to recognize her right to rule, and excommunicates her (1558). Freed from allegiance to their ruler, some powerful Latin Christians in Britannia began to conspire to murder Elizabeth and replace her with a Latin Christian monarch like her older sister Mary. Philip 2nd, Catholic king of Spain and widower of Mary 1, supports them. He will have Britannia either Catholic or conquered. For thirty years he combines aid to conspirators with threats, should they fail, of a full-scale invasion. 

At the same time, English Christian tolerance for Latin Christians deteriorates with the publication (1571) of John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. In his book, John tells the stories of English Christians murdered for their Protestant beliefs. He gives special emphasis to the leading reformers executed by Mary.

The final blow to mutual tolerance comes on November 5, 1605—two years after Elizabeth’s death. Guy Fawkes wants Britannia back in the Latin Christian fold. To get it there he plans to blow up a joint session of Parliament being addressed by the king. If he succeeds, he will kill the entire Protestant aristocracy in Britannia. He fails—but only at the last minute. Popular reaction to Latin Christians remains deliriously hostile for 200 years.

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.