In the cases of Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and Knox, I believe misguided zeal and conviction had quite a bit to do with their rebellion against the Church. But I highly doubt anyone can claim (with a straight face at least....unless it's part of a dry British comedy) that Henry VIII was motivated by any deeper sentiments than lust and self-interest when he broke ties with the Holy See. As for those who helped facilitate his usurpation of Church titles and property, most just as drunk with power and didn't care who or what they hurt in their plow to the top. This condemnation falls the strongest of all on the apostate Catholic bishops who bent to king's will or made a point to take control of a diluted state-run church for themselves.
I do not wish to generalize here. There were certainly very devout Reformation-era Protestants in England, many who wound up burnt at the stake rather than ditching their convictions. While I still believe they were on the wrong track, their evident honesty and courage does them credit. But they were not the ones who split England away from Rome and set the groundwork for The Church of England. No, instead it was a king who beheaded Catholics and burned Protestants for his own selfish ends, a wife-murderer and sex-mongrel who destroyed almost everything he could not dominate.
His daughter Elizabeth may have been less overtly monstrous, but she was equally self-interested and a vixen when it came to church politics. Basically, she saw the opportunity for consolidating more power for herself through what her father had done and took full advantage of it. Her promised not to "look into the windows of men's souls" was one of the most dishonest stump speeches ever given. Yes, she promised Catholics could "quietly" hold their beliefs -- but without priests. And she knew full well Catholicism couldn't continue without priests, and intended to humor and disarm until the Catholic Church in England was dead.
And where did Anglicanism take her realm? What became of the state-run religious experiment? To put it bluntly, it ran amuck, and modern Britain is living proof of it. While traditionally Catholic countries have sunk into the swamp of indifference, they at least retain some visual vestiges of a very visual faith. The very things that makes Catholicism hard to kill are her outward signs, the things drummed into us as children that are bound to resurface in later lives. It is, by its very nature, a robust and colorful expression of the human interaction with the divine. Anglicanism, by contrast, was something of a compromise from the start, a little too tame, a little too muted, a little too watered-down. And being a form of rebellion itself, other rebellions against her were sure to ferment and weaken her.
There are so many different elements of this reality, but a very poignant one is that Britain did become a virtually self-worshiping country when her sturdy religious faith became inextricably linked with the state as opposed to being an independent entity. Hence the rise of jingoism, and the arrogance of imperialism, in a nation in which self-achievement became a god and xenophobia was the norm. Religion literary faded from the front-lines and became, for many, nothing more than a feel-good farce. Again, I don't mean to generalize, and I am more than happy to give praise to fervent Anglicans (and Christians of every stripe) from the past and the present. But even they often admitted they were fighting upstream in a luke-warm bathtub, and I heartily believe they were deceiving themselves by clinging to the old justification that Catholicism as the root of all evil and refusing to embrace the solutions she readily provided.
Anyway, all these things paved the way for the atheism and agnosticism that has swamped Britain today. It was easy to drift from a luke-warm state-run Church to religious nothingness. And that is the greatest tragedy of Henry VIII's betrayal. But all this, melancholy as it may be, makes me more fascinated by the reprinting of "Defense of the Seven Sacraments", and the bold fact that it is dedicated to our current queen. The pamphlet calls it "a daring contribution to the cause of authentic Christian re-unification in this new millennium marked by rising de-Christianization." The project has been put into motion:
Under the Aegis of the Medieval Patroness of "Merry England" (Mary's Dowry): Our Lady of Walsingham
Authored by a King: Henry VIII
Assisted by a Saint: Sir Thomas More
Acclaimed by a Pope: Leo X
Dedicated to a Queen: Elizabeth II
In Memoriam of the Crusader of the 20th Century: Plinio Correa de Oliveira
To quote the introduction by James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, from the 1907 edition:
"It is rare, inasmuch as it has probably been printed but twice in nearly 200 years. It is a royal book, by reason of its kingly author. It is Catholic, because no Catholic could write a more orthodox treatise on the subjects explained by King Henry VIII.
"He expounds such crucial dogmas as the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, indulgences, the mystery of the Real Presence and the Mass, the Sacrament of Confession, divorce, etc. And all this he has unfolded in as Catholic a manner as St. Thomas or St. Francis de Sales, or St. Alphonsus Liguori could have done.
"I hope, therefore, that the work may be widely and carefully read, especially in this country, but indeed also in England, the land of its birth."
While ruminating on all these things, and watching that classic of classics, A Man for All Seasons, I was inspired to write words in tribute to St. Thomas More and all the Catholic Recusants to match the powerful Tudor-era theme. The following is the result:
A Man for All Seasons
Foolish men have prattling tongues
Yet the wisest use no words
Purest songs go unsung
Though the din, though the din
Foolish men seek out a name
Yet the wisest hold their own
Set aside without shame
Standing strong, standing strong
What’s the price, what’s the price
Of God’s truth?
What’s the sum, what’s the sum
Of Man’s worth?
Wild winds are blowing, strange seeds are growing here
Long time refusing, harsh voices causing fear
Foolish men cling to their lives
Yet the wisest lay them down
Truth’s the daughter of time
Not the court, not the court
Foolish men will fade away
Yet the wisest never die
Seasons pass, yet they stay
Ever more, ever more
|Sir Thomas More bids farewell to his daughter as he is led to his execution|