Harry W. Crocker III
was most at stake in the Reformation was freedom. The Catholic Church
was freedom’s defender, and not merely by defending Europe against
the Turks. It was the Church that nurtured the artistic freedom
of the Renaissance and the Baroque. It was the Protestants who smashed
religious art as idolatry and sensualism. It was the Church that
sponsored the literary freedom of the humanists, and the Protestants
who condemned it as paganism. It was the Church that affirmed man’s
free will, and the Protestants who insisted that every man’s fate
was determined before he was born. Most of all it was the Catholic
Church that stood opposed to the absolute power of the state. It
was the Church that claimed to be a universal, independent, and
superior court of appeals to the edicts of kings, while the Protestants
made religion a department of government to be controlled by princes
(in Germany), or the city council (in Geneva), or the monarch (in
England and Scandinavia). There is, in fact, a much underappreciated
libertarian streak within the Catholic Church. It was seen in Pope
Gregory IX’s alliance with republicans and the capitalist city-states
of Italy against the Emperor Frederick II; it was seen in Renaissance
Catholicism, to the scandal of the Protestants; and it was seen
most especially in the conflict between the Church and the Tudor
Dynasty in England.
King’s Good Servant, but God’s First
lever that separated England from the Catholic Church was a woman.
She was popularly known as the “goggle-eyed whore,” but her given
name was Anne Boleyn.
Henry VIII had been married to Catherine of Aragon – the daughter
of Ferdinand and Isabella, the aunt of Charles V – for sixteen years
before he became obsessed the slim, longhaired, manipulative femme
fatale who would cleave England from the Church. Her grounds
were that she would not consent to be Henry’s mistress. She insisted
on being his wife, despite the complication that he was already
married to a woman from the most powerful family in Europe, who
had borne him six children (only one of whom survived), and who
was piously Catholic and therefore unable to contemplate divorce.
It was Anne who provided the simple remedy: Simply change England’s
If Christendom was stunned by the executions of Sir Thomas Moore
and Bishop John Fisher, the king was also beyond religious rebuke.
When Becket was murdered at Canterbury Cathedral, King Henry II
did penance, walking part of the road to Canterbury barefoot and
being scourged by monks at the altar of the cathedral. But King
Henry VIII held himself liberated from papal discipline, and he
would certainly not lower himself to be scourged by monks. Thomas
Cromwell even had Becket’s shrine destroyed and the saint condemned
as a traitor. The Church was the king’s, not the pope’s. Even the
pope’s allies – the duelists Charles V and Francis I – ensured that
Pope Paul III’s draft excommunication of the English king was suppressed.
Catholic monarchs saw no reason to quash the one Protestant principle
of which they approved: the divine of right of kings.
English Reformation, necessitated by lust, was enforced as a simple
power grab. England had no Luther or Calvin. The Protestant revolt
was not even – at least in the king’s mind – Protestant, for he
continued to uphold virtually the entirety of the Catholic faith….
If Henry beheaded and disemboweled recusant Catholics, he did the
same to vocal Protestants in a spirit of fair play and frank equality
before the law that was truly English.
Cromwell, however, sided with the Protestants – not out of religious
belief, for he had none, but because they were allies in centralizing
power under the king. For Cromwell, the destruction of shrines,
the abolition of holy days, the branding of Becket as a traitor,
and the rest of the sledgehammer Protestant program, were a way
to deny rallying points for Catholic resistance. When Cromwell himself
finally fell victim to the royal chopping block, it was because
he betrothed the king to a Protestant princess, Anne of Cleeves.
Her religion did not offend the king, but her looks certainly did.
So Cromwell had to go, begging for his life. Faced with death, he
made a sudden execution eve conversion to the Church that he had
done so much to destroy in England.
excerpt from the highly recommended Triumph:
The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2000-Year
History by H.W. Crocker III.
© 2001 H.W. Crocker III
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