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England's Great Tragedy: The Reformation.

The Reformation saw many changes in England and across Europe and other parts of the world. King Henry VIII, who became King of England in1509, had initially spoken out against Martin Luther, the German Augustinian monk who had written against some Church teachings but who refused to retract them when asked to do so by the Holy See. Luther's writings, together with other reformers and those monarchs who sought to usurp the authority of the Catholic Church, sparked the reformation.* But King Henry VIII, in those earlier years, had left no doubts as to his views. In his 1521 Assertio VII Sacramentorum [Defence of the Seven Sacraments] Henry wrote of Luther:

"What plague so pernicious did ever invade the flock of Christ?......What serpent so
venomous [as Luther] who calls the Pope's authority tyrannous and esteems the most
wholesome decrees of the universal church to be captivity? What a great limb of the
devil is he, endeavouring to tear the Christian members of Christ from their head!...
....For Luther cannot deny but that all the faithful honour and acknowledge the sacred
Roman see for their mother and supreme."

For Assertio Sacramentorum Pope Leo X duly bestowed on King Henry the title "Defender of the Faith." How ironic the King's words would prove to be!
The King had a daughter, princess Mary, however, when it became clear that he would not have a son to succeed him, he began to have concerns as to the validity of his marriage to Queen Catherine, and he sought a hearing on the matter from Rome. Catherine had been very briefly (a few months) married to the King's elder brother, Arthur, who had died. A decree of annulment to the marriage was obtained from the Pope. Pope Julius had also, at the behest of both England and Spain, given the dispensation on the grounds that the marriage between Catherine and Prince Henry would help to maintain peace in Europe. He also included that its granting had been:"and for other reasons unstated." This last part meant, in effect, that it was beyond being challenged.
Sons had been born but they had died as babies or in early infancy. The King turned his concerns into a theological argument which became known as the "Kings scruple"or "the King's great matter." It concerned the impediment of affinity and it derived from Leviticus 20:

If a man marries his brother's wife and thus disgraces his brother, they shall be childless because of
this incest. [Lev.20:21]

The King was clearly concerned and the issue of the succession, however, apart from the other passages in scripture that allow for such a marriage where the brother is deceased, and culminating in St Mark's gospel [Mk 12:19] the King did, of course, have a child; his daughter, Princess Mary. The King was advised, however, by Robert Wakefield, one of his theological advisors, that the original Hebrew translated as "sons they shall never have."
The King asked for a hearing on the matter and he placed his hopes on having a court hearing in England, the idea being to have a declaration made in his favour at home and then somehow persuade the Pope to ratify this in Rome. The King ignored those who tried to dissuade him from his course of action. Wolsey, Cardinal and Chancellor, is said to have spent an hour or more on his knees, begging the King to retract, and Bishop John Fisher, who had known the King all his life, and who was always protective of Queen Catherine, were amongst those who tried but failed.
The King sought an annulment of his marriage very especially in order to marry Anne Boleyn; he had already had an affair with Mary (Boleyn) Carey, Anne's sister (her son, Henry Carey, was said to have been by the King. )Many of course have pointed out that the very grounds of the "King's scruple" the impediment of affinity, applied to his relationship with Mary Boleyn and his now seeking to marry her sister.
Two courts were held in England, one under Wolsey, and one under the papal legate, Cardinal Campeggio; both were beset with difficulties and the Campeggio court met with lengthy delays; both courts were adjourned, as it turned out, permanently, without any ruling having been reached.
Wolsey, being unable to secure a favourable hearing from the Campeggio court, was exiled from office and was soon arrested and endured a court hearing against him for an alleged breach of the Statute of Praemunire, the penalty for which was a loss of position and possessions.
Dating from the late fourteenth century, the Statute of Praemunire concerned the prevailing authority and court jurisdiction of the Pope or the King in certain matters; it most often concerned finances or where certain hearings should be heard. In Wolsey's case it concerned the timing and right of ecclesiastical appointment and benefices and related matters. Wolsey had thought it better to plead guilty, he received a qualified pardon having handed over most of his money to the crown. A year later he was to stand trial on further charges, a year he spent in prayer and penance. He died at Leicester Abbey on his way back to London.
Following the collapse of the Campeggio court, a great crossroads was before the King. The King continued along the path he was already on, and this was escalated by the writings of Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer's writings reflected Luther and also those of William Tynedale, the English protestant reformer who was now residing in Hamburg.
It was Cranmer's assertion, based on Tynedale's writings of a 'godly prince' that it was the King and not the Pope, who had complete jurisdiction in his own kingdom, in all matters whatsoever. All that a king was required to do in matters religious was to consult with theological experts; the final decision rested with him. This places the temporal authority of the King over the spiritual authority of the Pope and overturns the whole proper order. The destruction of Christendom and the path of secularism must follow. The King, however, would not only be aware of the power, money and influence this would bring (although this is only in the short term since undermining Catholic Church authority sees the undermining of all authority) but also, the logical conclusion of the Tynedale/Cranmer formula is that the King, with certain legislative changes, would eventually be in a position to grant himself an annulment or divorce, and this is exactly the direction in which the King would now head.
Clearly Pope Clement VII did not want to alienate Henry, but the King still risked excommunication and, therefore, put not only himself but also the whole country at great risk. An excommunicate King was ripe to be deposed and, therefore, risked invasion from abroad and civil war at home. In spite of this, however, with still no word from the Pope in his favour, the King, by late1530, had begun some legislative changes that piled further pressure on the Church, both at home and in Rome.
The King also effected a different type of blow; one that would severely weaken the Church. In January1531 he fined the entire clergy of England the sum of one hundred thousand pounds on the trumped up charge that they had complied with the late Cardinal Wolsey's 'illegal' use of his office. The clergy were required to pay the money and beg pardon of the King. And which they did.
What did the loss of one hundred thousand pounds, an absolutely gigantic sum in those days, mean to the Church? It affected the financial support of the clergy, it meant the loss of money for use in charitable purposes, from feeding the poor to running Church hospitals and schools, it meant that buildings were less likely to be maintained, it would have had an effect on clerical training. The whole infrastructure of the Church and society would have been rocked by the payment of such an enormous sum. Much of this money would have come into the Church, on trust, through charitable donations.

Church and Christendom: A crisis.

The King at this time also took what was the major step in putting the Cranmer/Tynedale formula into practice in England; he insisted that he be named "Protector and Supreme Head of the English Church." Bishop John Fisher spoke out against the title, pointing out in his famous speech that the whole structure of organized religion in western Europe was based on Papal legislation and that such a title for the King would mean a renouncing, simultaneously, of all the canonical and ecclesiastical laws of the Catholic Church and a renouncing too of the unity of the Christian world, the consequence being to "leap out of Peter's ship, to be drowned in the waves of all heresies, sects, schisms and divisions."
The reluctance shown by the clergy in Parliament to the demands of the King were, in fact, quite sustained, with a number of hearings all of which resulted in a rejection of the King's proposals, at which rejection the King would duly make known that he insisted.1 The clergy continued to resist but things moved in the King's favour when he threatened to attend the hearings personally in order to see who was for and who was against him. Ultimately, Parliament agreed a compromise. The compromise was a clause. The clause was this:

"Supreme Head "so far as the law of Christ allows."

The clergy resisted this too, but only by way of complete silence. The silence was broken by a proposal by William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, who stated, on February 11th 1531:

"Qui tacet consentire videtur." "Silence signifies assent."

The King pressed on with his plans to be head of the Church but which can only mean him beginning his own church since only the Pope can head the true Church. In 1532, another Bill, The Supplication of the Commons, was introduced, it in effect accused the clergy in convocation of making laws that were inconsistent with the laws of the realm, what was being aimed at, however, was, as Culkin points out "the placing of Canon Law at the mercy of the Crown." The effect being to "completely destroy the independence of the church."2 And here again we see the overturning of the principle of Christendom with Canon law being subjected to the Monarch's laws.

The Peto/Elstow Intervention Greenwich palace Easter 1532.

A famous defence against the King's direction took place on Easter Sunday 1532. In the convent church at Greenwich Palace; the court in attendance, the celebrant, Fr William Peto; a Friar Observant, gave a sermon in which he warned the King over his plans for a divorce. In a reference to the Old Testament prophet Micheas, he advised the King that: "Sir, I am the Micheas that you deadly hate for prophesying and telling you the truth." He went on to warn the King lest he end up like King Achab in the unhappy fate of the dogs licking his blood [III Kgs 21:19&22:38]. King Achab was of course the Old Testament King who, with his wife Jezebel, had sought to usurp the vineyard belonging to another. [IIIKgs21:1-20.] Fr Peto also directed his words at those close to the King, saying:

"..they dare to speak of peace where there is no peace, and are not afraid to tell of licence and liberty for monarchs that no King should dare even contemplate."1

The whole moment was lost on no one but the King sought to keep it all as low key as possible, and which allowed Fr Peto, who was the Provincial Minister of the Friar Observants, to attend a meeting in Canterbury the following week before moving on to a meeting in Toulouse. The following Sunday; one of the King's chaplains, Fr Richard Curwen, said Mass and in his sermon announced to all that there was universal support for the King's divorce and that Fr Peto was a coward who had fled. To which the Friars Observants, led Fr Henry Elstow protested and with Elstow climbing into the rood loft from where he compared Curwen to one of the prophets of Baal and of being one who preferred the King's favour to God's. And saying:

"Even unto thee, Curwen, I say, who art thyself one of the four hundred lying prophets, into whom the spirit of lying is entered: thou seekest by proposing adultery to establish a succession. In this, thou art betraying the king to everlasting perdition, more for thine own vain-glory and hope of temporal gain by promotion, than for the discharge of the thing you call your conscience or for the King's eternal salvation." 2

Fr Elstow was arrested, as was Fr Peto on his return to England. They were imprisoned whilst the King sent to Rome for one of the Order's commissioners to try them. But who had them released. They soon fled abroad. Just two of the many Englishmen forced subsequently to do so. Following on from these events, the Friar Observants now conducted a nationwide campaign in defence of the Catholic Faith, of Queen Catherine, and of Princess Mary.

Upheavals Ahead.

It was Archbishop Warham who this time led the defence; now recognizing the great dangers in the direction that was being taken by the King, he set about compiling a strong defence against the demands, and in this he includes a detailed historical account of how Archbishops of Canterbury had, traditionally, made a stand against tyrant kings; he very particularly included how in the past they had successfully threatened kings with excommunication. Warham, who was in his eighties, was due to present what would have been a brave, an historic and an influential speech to parliament, but alas, he had left it too late; he died in August 1532, and his long and detailed defence of the Church, in which his clear anguish very much comes through, though on record, was never heard.3
Who would succeed Warham as Archbishop of Canterbury? The King's choice was Thomas Cranmer and which sent shudders throughout the clergy in England. Known as quite openly protestant and newly married to the daughter of one of the German reformers, Cranmer was opposed. Tragically, however, Pope Clement VII, decidedly known for not making rash decisions made one at this time. Not knowing of Cranmer's apostasy and in what was clearly an appeasement of the King, he appointed Cranmer.
Things now moved swiftly in the King's new direction. Cranmer, being duly appointed, set about swearing not one but two oaths of allegiance; the one he swore in favour of the King taking priority over the one he swore in favour of the Pope. January1533 was also witness to another event, at Greenwich Palace the King had secretly 'married' Anne Boleyn (not a true marriage) and which had followed on from her announcing that she was expecting a child. The King was, of course, very concerned to have the marriage formally recognized before the child's birth, due in early September, and which, in turn, meant formally pronouncing on the matter of his marriage to Queen Catherine. But how could the King make such an announcement without due dispensation from the Pope?
Matters by1533 had reached the most crucial stage, great blows were now effected. The King, early in 1533, had introduced a new Bill: The Act in Restraint of Appeals, which was quickly ratified by a now puppet-like parliament. Thought to have been the work of Thomas Cromwell, it declared England to be not subject to any other earthly power, it declared that the Pope had no power or authority in England and gave the King far reaching powers previously vested in the Church, and which included, of course, on the issue of divorce. The King had given himself the power by which to grant himself a divorce.
The next stage was to put these new powers into effect, and this was, of course, carried out by Cranmer. In May1533 he announced formally and publicly, that the marriage between the King and Queen Catherine was null and void. This was followed almost immediately by an announcement that the marriage between King Henry and Anne Boleyn was good. All the formalities for the crowning of a queen were observed for Anne Boleyn, including her riding in state through London.
For his act, Cranmer was duly excommunicated by Pope Clement. He did not, however, step down; Cranmer was now exercising his office as Archbishop of Canterbury and senior prelate in England, under the authority of the temporal power; the authority of the King, and not under the spiritual authority of the Pope.
All attention now turned to the birth of the child and which took place on 7th September 1533. At Greenwich Palace, Anne Boleyn gave birth to a healthy child; a girl. She was named Elizabeth in honour of the King's mother. The King did not attend her Christening. What would King Henry do now? Would he keep with his direction or would he go back? He pressed on, and this saw the King, who would have been very aware that his imminent excommunication might provoke a civil war, as well as worsen the threats of war from abroad, engage in a ruthless campaign of rounding up all the influential whom he thought stood in opposition to him.
A foremost figure amongst these was the Benedictine nun, Elizabeth Barton OSB, "The Holy Maid of Kent," believed by many to have been a saint and prophet in her own lifetime, she had bravely gained an audience with the King and warned him against his course of action, and which had been made known. She and her close adherents mounted something of a campaign in defence of the Catholic faith and were forced to do public penance and they spent months in the Tower of London before being executed without trial. They were, in effect, the first martyrs of the reformation in England. The 'rounding up' also meant terrible onslaughts against the Friar Observants who had conducted a nationwide campaign in defence of Queen Catherine, Princess Mary and the Catholic faith. The Friars were the first religious Order to fall victim to the King's rampaging onslaughts against the Church.
Further pressure against those who remained in opposition to the King is seen in the Oath of Succession, an Act introduced in1533/34, and which required all subjects to recognize Elizabeth and not Mary as heir to the throne. It also required subjects to recognize the King's supremacy over the Church in England. This was followed in November 1534 by The Act of Supremacy which declared the King to be "the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England." Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher were amongst those who were martyred for refusing to sign the Acts. Both More and Fisher were beheaded in 1535, after spending their long months of misery in the Tower of London.
Under the management of Thomas Cromwell, the King soon began the dissolution; the plundering and destruction of the monasteries; the monasteries that were the strength and backbone of the Catholic Faith in England, and of England itself. The appalling destruction and suppression of the monasteries took place throughout England, mostly between 1538 and 1539.
May1536 saw the execution of Anne Boleyn. The King then married Jane Seymour. She later gave birth to his son, Edward and who became King Edward VI "the boy King."
Whilst the King clearly saw his alliance with Anne Boleyn as a mistake, tragically he did not take the same view with regard to his break with Rome and return England to Her true Faith; Catholicism. The Reformation, the break with Our Lord's Church, the one true Church, was the third apostasy of the world. As one Catholic Encyclopedia states:

"Christ founded His Church as a visible and perfect society: [and]
that He intended it to be absolutely universal and imposed upon
all men a solemn obligation actually to belong to it, unless
inculpable ignorance should excuse them; that He wished
His Church to be one, with a visible corporate unity of
faith, government and worship; and that in order to secure
this threefold unity, He bestowed on the Apostles and
their legitimate successors in the hierarchy [the Pope
and the Bishops] - and on them exclusively-the plenitude
of teaching, governing, and liturgical powers with which He
wished this Church to be endowed."4


1.See Art. 1X.- Warham, An English Primate on the Eve of the Reformation. In, The Dublin Review London, 1894. A copy accessed through Canterbury library.
2.Gerard Culkin: The English Reformation. Pater Noster
Publications Ltd 1954 p17
3.Warham, An English Primate ibid.
4. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm accessed 19/6/13


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