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Thursday 30 April 2015

What if the Protestant Reformation had not been forced on England from the top down?

Dominic Selwood, a historian, describes in a recent article in the Catholic Herald what England might look like if the Reformation had not been imposed from the top down on the English who had been merrily Catholic for 1000 years.
Selwood has, like Eamon Duffy, argued that there was widespread popularity and vibrancy in the traditional Catholic Faith in late medieval English society before the Reformation. He has shown that the intense efforts made by the Tudor regime to stamp out the Catholic Faith was from the top down. 

Selwood has criticized the popular depiction of Thomas Cromwell in Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" books for blurring historical fiction and fictional history, creating a n image of  Cromwell that bears no relation to the historical person.
Selwood begins the article with a vision of what the "first truly Renaissance court" would have been like if Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon's son had become Henry IX.  [bolding is mine]

It was a court . . .  "where the progressive influence of Thomas More and Erasmus brought a gentle but keen appreciation of the classics and humanities. When Henry died an old man, he was mourned as our greatest scholar king. 

His son, King Henry IX, acceded to the throne, inaugurating one of England’s most luminous reigns. He sponsored the maritime genius of Drake and Raleigh, oversaw England’s first substantial colonies in the New World, and witnessed the consolidation of England and Spain as Europe’s leading Catholic powers.
Of course, that is not what happened. Personal tragedy struck just 43 days after Henry’s glittering joust at Westminster. Out of the blue, the seven-week-old prince died. Distraught, Katherine repeatedly tried again. Over a period of eight years, her agonising labours produced two sons and four daughters, but all except Mary were stillborn or died as infants.
Undeterred, Henry became fixated on a male heir to secure his lineage (ironic, given that two of his daughters rank among England’s best-known rulers). With increasing tunnel vision, he proceeded to scythe through wives and advisers in an orgy of beheadings. 
Years earlier, Henry had been a stalwart of the Counter-Reformation, tearing into Luther’s theology in Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (1521), a heartfelt defence of Catholic beliefs. Had his monomania for a male heir not led him to co-opt Protestantism as a utilitarian tool to secure a divorce, he would no doubt have continued his strong public support of Catholic teachings, which he always maintained in private. 
Henry Tudor in 1509
Although Henry’s marital intrigues inflicted serious damage on traditional English religion – most notably in the asset-stripping of over 800 monasteries – it was Edward VI who bulldozed Catholicism off the English landscape, smashing up parish churches and bulk-importing foreign Protestants via an open-door immigration policy for the continent’s ambitious Lutherans and Calvinists. 
But let’s rejoin the story with Henry VIII, and ask what would have happened if Henry and Katherine had never divorced. How might England be different today?
First, the Reformation would almost certainly not have reached England, then known affectionately for the deepness of its Catholic faith as “Mary’s Dowry”. There were few Protestants this side of the Channel, and nothing suggests they would have grown in any significant numbers. So, like most of continental Europe, England would have remained Catholic.
There would have been no Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Stuarts, or the need to pass over 50 Catholic heirs before giving the throne to the acceptably Protestant Hanoverians. There would be no Bonfire Night or Guy [Fawkes] to burn on November 5 each year. And Nelson would not have fought the Spanish at Trafalgar, so the centre of London might now commemorate some other victory: as Geneva Square, perhaps, marking a long-forgotten dust-up with Alpine Calvinists. 
Geopolitically, the most significant consequence would be that the great colonisation of the New World – by England, Spain, Portugal and France – would have resulted in uniformly Catholic settlements in North America. There would have been no Puritan “Pilgrim Fathers”, who, like Catholics, were criminalised in England from 1559 for not attending the shiny new Tudor Church. Although Catholicism is still comfortably the world’s largest Christian denomination, the Protestant bond linking England with her former colonies is the ideological cement of a shared modern “Anglo-Saxon” identity. (It is an odd image, seeing as the Anglo-Saxons were firmly Catholic.) 
England’s cultural and political links with Europe would be deeper, and we would look to the continent for “special relationships”. This is what Henry VIII was aiming for by marrying Katherine. The Tudors were young, with a fragile and complex claim to the English throne. By contrast, Katherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, los Reyes Catolicós, as well as aunt to the Holy Roman Emperor. She outgunned Henry by a country mile, and was even directly descended from a fistful of Plantagenet kings of England. 
Although David Starkey and others are championing a movement for historians to assert that England has a minimal shared cultural history with Europe, this view is light on history and heavy on 2015 Europolitics. Before the Reformation, England was an integral, interconnected and longstanding pillar of European Christendom.
Another difference would lie in the words of Shakespeare, whose influence continues to shape our language and identity. He was writing when the Triple Tree at Tyburn was busy with Elizabeth’s religious and political enemies, executing up to 24 people at a time. Like all Elizabethan writers, Shakespeare chose his words with caution. 

Speculation about whether he was a secret Catholic rumbles on; the evidence may suggest his father was. But it is self-evident that, if the political climate at Elizabeth’s court had not been so toxic, Shakespeare would have been freer to write without sensing her secret police at his elbow. If the environment were different, who knows what works he may have left us. 
There would be no concept of “the Dark Ages”, which exists as an idea uniquely in the English language – largely because the Reformation destroyed centuries of medieval colour and beauty. Until the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, our cathedrals were exploding with polychromy. There was nothing dark about them. Neither was the medieval world intellectually penumbral. Monastery, cathedral and university libraries were piled high with the weight of Christian and classical learning. 
What brought darkness were mobs of iconoclasts and book-burners under successive Protestant regimes – vandals who destroyed 90 per cent of England’s historic artistic heritage as surely and mindlessly as ISIS is pulverising Iraq’s. If the Reformation had not reached England, our precious and irreplaceable heritage would have been spared the hammers, pickaxes and bonfires. Moreover, the austere grey puritanical gloom we now associate with medieval churches might today be the riots of colour and vibrancy they were always intended to be. 
The Church would not, of course, have stood still. Humanists such as the Catholic priest Erasmus and the layman Thomas More [along with the English Cardinal Pole who was thought of as a candidate for Pope] were spearheading an intellectual renewal, broadening the medieval scholastic vision to include history, poetry and increased priestly education. If the violence of the Reformation had not intervened, perhaps they would have quietly opened up new avenues. 
For instance, key biblical books had long been available in the vernacular: like the fourth-century Bible in Gothic, the Wessex Gospels of 990 or the 12th-century Ormulum. Luther and Tyndale were doing nothing new in the act of translating Scripture. English Catholics in exile published the official Douay-Rheims New Testament in English in 1582, a full 29 years before the Church of England brought out its literary masterpiece, the King James Version of 1611.
With no Reformation, maybe “the spacious, luminous world of Catholic humanism” (in Evelyn Waugh’s words) would have overseen an English scriptural renaissance, but without the bloodshed that scarred our country for centuries. The project would doubtless have appealed to one of the most eloquent Englishmen of the day, who could so easily have ended up as Cardinal Archbishop Edmund Campion.
Even if Henry had not detonated the Reformation under English society, the religious landscape would nevertheless look vastly different today. Europe has become a more global and areligious place, with traditional faith in steady decline. Nevertheless, a Catholic England (even if increasingly secular) would have defining characteristics, and it is worth mentioning three. 
Pre-Reformation English spiritualty was vibrant, exuberant and community-centred. It was a celebration of colour, folklore, faith and song. The sober changes brought by Protestantism have undoubtedly made us a more dour, serious and less effervescent people. 
Catholic England also revelled in the public spectacle of mystery plays, in which cities vied to outdo each other, roping in hundreds of participants. It is hard to see why this would have died out if it had not been stamped out. So today, in addition to Morris and maypole dancing and school nativity plays, our folk traditions might still include mystery plays. They would perhaps be secular, satirical theatre by now, but after watching London’s ever-grander New Year celebrations, there is no doubt we still love a spectacular son et lumière to tell the world we are here. 
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a good case for thinking the welfare state would have assistance. When Henry took the throne, England was carpeted with monasteries. Many would have closed naturally over time as the world modernised. But forcibly ripping them out of the English landscape destroyed an identifiable sector of society devoted to caring, feeding, housing, healing and educating. When Wolf Hall’s Thomas Cromwell talks superciliously about legions of indolent monks growing rich on dodgy relics, he is spinning Tudor high propaganda, not history. 
Medieval monasteries mostly grew because ordinary people gave them money to conduct charitable works. On the eve of the Reformation, most wills, even by people of modest means, contained donations to religious houses for the relief of the poor. A century later, this Christian tradition was gone. Before Henry and Cromwell, London alone had 35 religious hospitals, including St Bartholomew’s and St Thomas’s, which are now both over 800 years old. Religion was inseparable from community caring. 
The Reformation’s wholesale replacement of a Catholic framework devoted to the needy (salvation by faith and works of mercy) with a Protestant one of Bible study and personal prayer (salvation by faith alone) altered our society fundamentally, refocusing us into ourselves and cutting off an entire infrastructure of charity. If we still had monasteries with the money to heal, feed, clothe, educate and offer hospitality to the poor, I doubt we would have nearly so many in our society sleeping rough with nowhere to go. 
Finally, it would be fascinating to imagine what England might feel like today. On the negative side, we would probably miss the familiarity of our parliamentary system, whose development was keenly informed by the individualism of Protestant thinking. And we would also mourn the absence of Church of England choral music, which is undoubtedly one of the finest gems in our country’s cultural heritage.
More broadly, to envisage a modern Catholic England, there is little point looking to other countries as examples. Like food, humour, clothing and music, a country’s religion is uniquely shaped by its people’s national characteristics. English Catholicism has always been a good-humoured affair: more Friar Tuck than Venerable Jorge, the grim Name of the Rose villain. For instance, the Inquisition never set foot in England, largely because our ancient common law is adversarial, relying on witnesses and jurors not judicial inquiries. (Well, there was one exception – the trial of the Templars – but you can blame the French for that.) 
England’s Catholicism has always been, and remains, a very English affair. It is as quintessentially subversive and quirky as warm beer, cricket, Winston Churchill and the shipping forecast – a formative and integral part of English culture that deserves to be recognised and acknowledged.

Dominic Selwood is a historian, author and barrister. Visit dominicselwood.com

Fr Paul Wattson, former Anglican, endorsed for Beatification by US Conference of Catholic Bishops

The cause for the beatification  of the former Anglican priest, Fr. Paul Wattson, has been endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops. 

From a report in CRUX (bolding is mine):

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed the cause for canonization of Father Paul Wattson, SA, Servant of God, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, at their meeting in Baltimore. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York sought the consultation of the American Bishops, which is the first step in the Catholic Church’s canonization process.
Before their vote, the New York Archdiocese’s Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara described the life and ministries of Father Paul, who was born Lewis T. Wattson, the son of an Episcopal priest, and who was himself ordained in 1886. “Father Wattson saw the need for both a Franciscan spirituality in the Episcopal [Anglican] Church and a way to serve the poor,” said Bishop O’Hara. 
Then, in 1909, the Society of the Atonement became the first religious community to be received corporately into the Catholic Church since the Reformation. Following Bishop O’Hara’s remarks, the Bishops conducted the traditional “voice vote,” which had no opposition. 
The Bishops’ vote, required by Church norms, indicated their support for the Cause as “pastorally appropriate” for the Church at this time. The next step on the path to sainthood will be a formal opening of the cause in the Archdiocese of New York, and a Postulator will begin collecting Fr. Paul’s writings, testimonies and other documents for review.
Father Paul is remembered for his work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as his world wide ministry in ecumenism. He founded what became the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” in 1908, which the Church still celebrates today. 
The ministry of At-One-Ment has blossomed to exemplary dialogue within the Christian Church as well as interreligious dialogue with Jews, Muslims and other world religious communities. Fr. Paul’s landmark homeless shelter St. Christopher’s Inn at Graymoor in Garrison, NY, has grown to minister to the marginalized of our society, by offering care to those who suffer from homelessness and substance abuse.
Father Paul was born on January 16, 1863, in Millington, Maryland, to Rev. Joseph Wattson and his wife Mary Electa Wattson. In 1898, twelve years after he was ordained as an Episcopal priest, in collaboration with an Episcopalian nun, Lurana White, he helped to found the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor in Garrison, NY. 
This new religious order was formed in the tradition of the Franciscans with the mission of promoting Christian unity and working with the poor. In 1908, Father Paul initiated the Church Unity Octave believing that a time set aside for prayer and seminars would hasten Christian unity. Both advocates of corporate reunion between the Anglican and Catholic churches, he and Mother Lurana White made a decision to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church one year later in 1909. Father Paul was ordained a Catholic priest by Archbishop John M. Farley in 1910.
An apostle of Christian unity and charity, Father Paul founded St. Christopher’s Inn, a refuge for homeless and addicted men. He published The Lamp, a monthly magazine devoted to Christian unity and the missions, and he produced “The Ave Maria Hour”, a radio program that broadcasted stories about the life of Christ and the lives of the Saints that was on the air from 1935 to 1969.
In 1903 he founded an organization, the Union-That-Nothing-Be-Lost, to disperse donations to other charitable organizations. He also co-founded the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and was instrumental in helping to launch the Catholic Medical Mission Board.
Fr. Paul Wattson died on February 8, 1940 at Graymoor in Garrison, NY. The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement continue his work toward Christian unity on three continents.

Pope Francis addresses Anglicans in Rome

At 11:15 this morning, April 30, 2015 Pope Francis received in audience the members of the International Anglican-Catholic Commission. 

He gave the following address in English:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

1. It is a pleasure to be with you, the members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. In these days you are gathered for a new session of your dialogue, which is now studying the relationship between the universal Church and the local Church, with particular reference to processes for discussions and decision making regarding moral and ethical questions. I cordially welcome you and wish you a successful meeting.

Your dialogue is the result of the historic meeting in 1966 between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey, which gave rise to the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International  Commission. On that occasion, they both prayed with hope for "a serious dialogue which, founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions, [would] lead to that unity in truth for which Christ prayed" (The Common Declaration by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey, Rome, 24 March 1966). 

We have not yet reached that goal, but we are convinced that the Holy Spirit continues to move us in that direction, notwithstanding new difficulties and challenges. Your presence here today is an indication of how the shared tradition of faith and history between Anglicans and Catholics can inspire and sustain our efforts to overcome the obstacles to full communion. Though we are fully aware of the seriousness of the challenges ahead, we can still realistically trust that together great progress will be made. 

2. Shortly you will publish five jointly agreed statements of the second phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, with commentaries and responses. I offer my congratulations for this work. This reminds us that ecumenical relations and dialogue are not secondary elements of the life of the Churches. The cause of unity is not an optional undertaking and the differences which divide us must not be seen as inevitable. Some wish that, after fifty years, greater progress towards unity would have been achieved. Despite difficulties, we must not lose heart, but we must trust even more in the power of the Holy Spirit, who can heal and reconcile us, and accomplish what humanly does not seem possible. 

3. There is a strong bond that already unites us which goes beyond all divisions: it is the testimony of Christians from different Churches and traditions, victims of persecution and violence simply because of the faith they profess. The blood of these martyrs will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment, a fervent desire to fulfill the last will and testament of the Lord: that all may be one (cf. Jn 17:21). The witness by these our brothers and sisters demands that we live in harmony with the Gospel and that we strive with determination to fulfill the Lord's will for his Church. Today the world urgently needs the common, joyful witness of Christians, from the defence of life and human dignity to the promotion of justice and peace.

Together let us invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to be able to respond courageously to "the signs of the times" which are calling all Christians to unity and common witness. May the Holy Spirit abundantly inspire your work.

Tuesday 28 April 2015


"WOLF HALL", the BBC TV series that has brought slander and the Oliver Stone style of history to new depths in its portrayal of St. Thomas More, is being called out by none other than Dr. Eamon Duffy, the celebrated historian and best-selling author of "THE STRIPPING OF THE ALTARS." 
His book has done more to dismiss "The Black Legend" than almost any other work of the past half century.

Before reading excerpts from Duffy's recent article though, have a look at the Holbein portraits below with a view to the fact that the artist had an intimate look at both men, their families and their work. 

I believe that Hans Holbein's powerful eye for conveying character in his portraits makes a compelling case in art for whom we could trust. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Which of these men would you like to stand before in the dock?
Thomas Cromwell

St. Thomas More

In a balanced, historically accurate and articulate article in THE TABLET, Duffy says:

" . . . it is perfectly true that as a Crown agent, and then as Lord Chancellor, More did pursue heretics. He never presided at a heresy trial (no layman could) and he never condemned anyone to death for their religious beliefs. In his autobiographical Apology, he refuted the charges of torture and maltreatment of suspects that Wolf Hall reports, accusations that, through John Foxe’s hostile elaboration in his Elizabethan propaganda work, Actes and Monuments, nevertheless persisted down the centuries. 
John Foxe, author of the notoriously and hysterically anti-Catholic "Book of Martyrs"
. . . when all but one of the bishops had perjured themselves by signing up to the Royal Supremacy, More died rather than swear an oath he did not believe. We can therefore trust his solemn insistence that no one in his custody for heresy had ever suffered “so much as a flip on the forehead," much less been tortured. Yet in the 1520s, he was undoubtedly the most active agent in Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey’s campaign against heresy. In collaboration with the gentle humanist Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall, More led a series of nocturnal raids on London houses and warehouses in search of forbidden Lutheran books and, as was routine in that age, he imprisoned and interrogated suspects in his house in Chelsea.

. . . In the age of Islamic State and al-Qaeda, we are deeply suspicious of anyone who thinks God wants us to kill other people, whatever the motive. But More’s world was not our world. By the standards of his age, he was a compassionate and just man. But he never questioned a legal system that imposed the death penalty not only for heresy or murder, but even for quite minor thefts. And like most of his contemporaries, he believed that heresy was a kind of spiritual murder. 

He viewed the preaching of heresy as we do the peddling of hard drugs, a moral cancer that ruined lives, corrupted the young, dissolved the bonds of truth and morality, and undermined the fabric of Christian society. He was horrified by the religious wars tearing Europe apart in the 1520s, shattering the vision of Christian harmony that he and Erasmus had promoted in their writings. 
Like Erasmus, More blamed those wars on Luther and his followers, and he feared that the spread of Protestantism would wreak the same havoc in England [havoc which was unleashed in the English Civil War led by Oliver Cromwell - Can we never be rid of these Cromwells ? !] 

[Thomas More] believed he had a duty to persuade, coax and, if necessary, coerce heretics to abandon their beliefs – or at least to stay silent about them. A man must indeed follow his conscience. But if a misguided conscience led him to propagate evil opinions, he must either repudiate those errors when they were pointed out to him, or take the consequences.

Several recent biographers have found the apparent contradiction between the genial humanist and saint of tradition, and the implacable opponent of heresy, impossible to resolve. So they have cut the Gordian knot, rejecting as pious fiction the testimony of Erasmus and of More’s sixteenth-century biographers that he was as attractive as he was brilliant, and substituting instead the portrait of an unreconstructed bigot and sadist, in the words of  Thomas Cromwell [as written by the source for the B.B.C. Series] “a blood-soaked hypocrite”. 

But the portrait that emerges is too dark. It is impossible to imagine the sour-faced More played by Anton Lesser stepping in among the Christmas players at Cardinal Morton’s court – as the young More did – to improvise his own hilarious role; or writing the 100 “merry tales” that light up even the most serious of his English works; or cracking the last great joke of all, as he climbed the rickety scaffold to his death: “I pray you, Master Lieutenant, see me safely up, and as for my coming down, you may leave me to shift for myself.”

More was neither blood-soaked nor a hypocrite, but he was a man of his times, not of ours. In the spring of 1535, while he languished in the Tower, William Tyndale was arrested in Brussels. A year later, Tyndale was strangled and burned as a heretic. 

More and Tyndale were old and bitter enemies. But like More, Tyndale was a man consumed by passion for the truth, and a scholar and translator of transcendent genius. Most of what we admire in the magnificent language of the King James Bible goes back to him. More too believed the Bible should be available in English. But Tyndale taught that the Pope was Antichrist and the Catholic Church a Satanic conspiracy against God’s work. More thought Tyndale’s Bible would poison the wells and corrupt the hearts and minds of innocent Christians. 

Yet the two men, so deeply divided in religion, were united in the conviction that truth was worth dying for. Both believed that society must be rooted in truth, and that God’s truth had to be defended against brute power and political expediency – even if it cost the defender their liberty and their lives. 

Tyndale’s vitriolic hatred of the papacy now seems unbalanced, just as More’s rejection of Tyndale’s sublime biblical work seems blinkered. They died for opposing understandings of the Gospel. But both died as witnesses that truth mattered, that in a truly human society both law and liberty must be rooted in something deeper, more objective and more enduring than personal preference, political expediency or naked power. Neither would have looked to Cromwell for a soul-mate."

Eamon Duffy is professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Cambridge and the author of "The Stripping of the Altars".