Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

The Reformation Begins in England

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
The last articles in this series (see September and previous issues of The Messenger), showed how the Reformation took hold in continental Europe. The early stages of the Protestant Reformation in England were largely determined by the marital exploits of King Henry VIII, resulting in a movement that was quite different in tone and character from the events on the European mainland.
Background
1. Since the 1200's there had been the struggle for supremacy between successive popes and kings. This climaxed in the struggle between Innocent III and King John. Since then there had been a steady decline in the popeÕs power. Resistance to the pope climaxed with Henry VIII (b.1491; ruled from 1509 - 1547).

2. The church in England, although Roman Catholic, was different. The reforms of John Wycliffe and the follow up work of the Lollards had so influenced the people that when LutherÕs ideas came, they were not strange; in fact, there was a ready market for his writings.

3. In the late 1400's the Renaissance swept through England; leading figures were John Colet, John Fisher and Thomas More.

4. A new edition of the Greek New Testament circulated through the universities. Humanism in England was more closely bound to the Scriptures than elsewhere.

5. In 1526 Tyndale completed a translation of the New Testament from the Greek, not from the Latin Vulgate. He did his work in Germany for fear of persecution in England. Seven editions of this New Testament were smuggled into England. In 1535 Miles Coverdale completed the Old Testament so that now the entire Bible is in English. About 60% of our well-known King James Version is straight from this translation. Tyndale, much opposed by the King (Henry) and the bishop of London, was betrayed while living in exile in Antwerp, Belgium (then the Netherlands) and suffered a martyrÕs death near Brussels on October 6, 1536.

Henry VIII
An extraordinarily dramatic, charismatic and colourful king was this Henry. His first marriage was to Catharine of Aragon, aunt to Emperor Charles V of Spain and widow of HenryÕs deceased brother, Arthur. She gave Henry no male heir, only a daughter, Mary, who later earned the nickname ÒBloody MaryÓ. Henry wanted to divorce her and marry one of her maids of honour, Anne Boleyn. He needed the popeÕs approval, which was not forthcoming. Henry then turned the currents of nationalism and reformation to his own use. He dismissed Cardinal Wolsey in 1529, passed a law forbidding appeals to papal courts, appointed the rather pliable Cranmer as archbishop of Canterbury (i.e. head of the English section of the church), and had Cranmer pronounce his first marriage null and void, married Anne and crowned her queen. In this, Henry had also sought the advice of the universities who readily agreed with him. The pope (Clement VII) and the clergy were very much opposed to this marriage, all the more so since CatherineÕs uncle Charles was the most powerful ruler of the day; however, once the ball got rolling, there was no stopping Henry. He passed various laws:

1531 - the King is head of the Church of England;

1534 - the Act of Annates - the church is forbidden to send money to Rome (a levy imposed against John way back in the 1200's); the election of bishops is to be under HenryÕs control; he nominates them.

1534 - Act of Supremacy - Henry is now the legal head of the church.

He proceeded to destroy many monasteries because they were ÒcorruptÓ; he also took much of their wealth. Anne Boleyn, who also gave him no male heir but did give birth to Elizabeth I, also lost his favour and was beheaded for allegedly having committed adultery.

HenryÕs Attitude to the Church
Henry showed no grace or spiritual life and did not pretend to have any either, except as the matters of the church touched the state. He broke with Rome but remained a Roman Catholic, at least, in thought and outlook. He had earlier been given the title, by the pope, Defender of the Faith, for having written a pamphlet opposing the ideas of Martin Luther, but it really seems there was little faith in him to defend. When the pope refused to grant the divorce from Catharine of Aragon, Henry made some approaches to Lutheranism but could not abide by the Confession of Augsberg, their statement of faith. Although he was opposed to the Pope, he still felt some loyalty to the Church of Rome. When Thomas More and John Fisher, bright minds and gentle scholars, loyal to the Church of Rome, opposed him, he had them beheaded. After he had Anne Boleyn put to death, he married Jane Seymour who gave birth to a son, Edward. Jane died in childbirth.

Progress of the Reformation
Church affairs were headed by Thomas Cromwell who was sympathetic to reform but always within the church. He and the rulers feared that a break with Rome would lead to civil war. Cromwell walked a tight rope; he favoured Lutheran practices with a Romish church. Others, such as Ridley, Cranmer and Latimer, were more favourable to Reformed views. Henry wanted only independence for the church, but no doctrinal changes. As this ÒreformationÓ progressed, there was a mixture of Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism but no one was really satisfied and divisions grew. A brief overview shows the following dates and developments:

1536 - The Ten Articles (issued by Henry) were to settle the issue: the church would be Roman Catholic in doctrine; there would be some liturgical changes; the pope was denounced.

1537 - The Book of Instruction for the Clergy - provided a mixture of Romish and Lutheran ideas, especially for liturgy.

1539 - new English translation of the Bible, called Òthe GreatÓ or ÒCranmerÕs Bible,Ó based largely on the Tyndale/Coverdale issue. In his introduction, Cranmer wrote about ÒSola ScripturaÓ (Scripture Alone) and the priesthood of all believers. These were clearly Reformation views.

There were negotiations with the Lutherans until 1538, but Henry became more and more committed to Roman Catholicism.

1539 - finally, The 39 Articles of the Church of England were adopted; they showed a heavy Lutheran influence.

1547 - Henry died, having had a total of six wives; in addition to the three mentioned there were Catherine Howard, also executed, Anne of Cleves, divorced by him, and Catherine Parr, who managed to outlive him. As one historian writes ÒYet through this unadmirable man, God did bring a Reformation to his church in England.Ó

At HenryÕs death there were really three parties:

1. Roman Catholics - not united; although the majority wanted a return to the pope, a strong minority prevented this and wanted loyalty only to the church;

2. Middle party - the majority of the people who wanted to stay independent from Rome, correct the abuses in the church, but maintain Romish doctrine;

3. Protestant party - both Lutheran and Calvinistic, which grew rapidly in numbers and in influence.

Read 1620 times

We have 234 guests and no members online

© Free Reformed Churches of North America