Given some postings elsewhere on the blogosphere, I might have given the impression that I was advocating that the state of affairs in the ACC does or should resemble the Church of England under the reign of Henry VIII. One blogger has even compared the schismatic not-yet-Protestant Church of 1531-1549 with the Patriotic Association in China, a puppet State Church! In that case, I can understand his thanks but no thanks.
I haven’t the resources or the time to do a complete study of the Tudor dynasty or the English Church from 1531 to 1549. I find Diarmaid MacCulloch’s two articles (graciously sent to me by Dr William Tighe) on the English Reformation interesting, with a certain realistic touch that demythologises much of what is told about the English Reformation in defence of a Catholic continuity and thus a foundational myth in Anglicanism.
Summarising a few notions in MacCulloch’s Putting the English Reformation on the Map, a fairly stark picture emerges. The English Church under Henry VIII was perhaps more a kind of Lutheranism without the solas, justification by faith alone, than a form of non-Roman Catholicism. Much of the old Catholicism remained: like the Use of Sarum, made standard to replace the other diocesan uses, clerical celibacy and cathedrals. On the other hand, he pillaged the abbeys and ruined the foundations of popular piety like the shrines and chantry foundations.
We have to remember that this was the absolute Monarchy, and anyone who looked skew-eyed at the king was liable to come to a sticky end, usually the short sharp shock with a cheap and chippy chopper… It is unfortunate that Henry VIII turned against the Lutherans by burning Robert Barnes, and Protestants in England began to turn more towards the Swiss Reformers, which would pave the way for the future beyond the King’s death. Perhaps links with Lutheranism would have been better than the Calvinist backlash that occurred under Edward VI. Very little remained of the Henrician legacy other than the break with Rome, royal supremacy and the cathedrals.
As a foundational myth, Henry VIII leaves a lot to be desired. I have already mentioned the idea of “English Gallicanism”. The idea of royal supremacy over national churches was something widespread in Europe at the time, and France was no exception. There was a Pragmatic Sanction by Charles VII in 1438 that limited the power of Rome in matters of nominating bishops and abbots, and ecclesiastical discipline in general. We should not forget that Boniface VIII claimed absolute authority also in temporal matters, and all kings and princes were subject to him, a “universal king” if you like. Louis XI granted Pius II the abrogation of this legislation in 1461, but the Parliament of Paris refused. Louis XI agreed a concordat with Sixtus IV in 1472, but Parliament still refused. The Pragmatic Sanction remained in force until the Concordat of Bologne signed in 1516 par François 1er and Leo X, and it continued to influence religious politics in France through the time of the Revolution and Napoleon’s Empire. Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627 – 1704) is the name most associated with Gallicanism in the seventeenth century under Louis XIV. It is no coincidence that the time-line corresponds with the rise of the Arminians. In 1681, Louis XIV united the French bishops to ask them for a solemn declaration of the Libertés de l’Eglise Gallicane. Bossuet was the one chosen to write the text. It consists of four articles:
- Princes are not subject to the authority of the Church in temporal matters.
- The authority of the Pope is limited by general Councils.
- The authority of the Pope is limited by the laws and customs of the King and the Church of France.
- The Pope is not infallible, unless his teaching is confirmed by the Church (the General Council).
The French bishops all approved the Declaration on 19th March 1682. Things twisted and turned in France through the Revolution and the Empire, and eventually the early Liberals like Montalembert and De Lamennais ignited the beginnings of the Ultramontanist movement leading to Vatican I in 1870. That marked the end of Gallicanism, to which may be owed the reaction against Paul VI’s reforms of the 1960’s by a French archbishop and numerous clergy.
One would hardly call Henrician Anglicanism “English Gallicanism” in the strict sense, for the French Church stayed in communion with Rome all in keeping the Pope at arm’s length. Henry VIII wanted to “do his own thing” and broke away from Rome, and replaced it with himself! That being said, the parallels are there. The basic notion is one of conciliar Catholicism in which the Pope’s authority is limited by the Episcopate as a collegial body. In the case of England, the extreme prevailed, with the king taking the place of the Pope and having control over the Bishops.
Canon law following the ancient Corpus Juris Canonici is incredibly complicated, something like English common and statute law. You need incredibly good lawyers. Rome did well to codify everything in 1917 and 1983, but jurisprudence is still a source of law. Unlike Gallicanism that kept the Pope at arm’s length by means of political cut-and-thrust, Anglicanism simply rejected the Papal office. A more humble and realistic Henry VIII might have done in England what Louis XIV did in 1682 – assert the privileges of the national Church, and thus keep everything Catholic.
I don’t think anyone has advocated doing an exact copy of Henry VIII and his Church. I certainly wouldn’t, not even if I gained the support of Queen Elizabeth II in the endeavour and some tough guys to enforce it all! There are positive and negative points: the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church was left alone apart from imposing Sarum everywhere as the best-organised set of books. The churches and cathedrals weren’t smashed up. On the other hand, the abbeys and shrines were looted and the proceeds went – guess where!
All the same, a model involving the Henrician state of affairs was better than the Christmas game of 1549 or the division of churches into preaching barns and pokey holes behind the old choir screen for the Lord’s Supper on a wooden table in 1552. The evidence is there. Very little was forgotten by the altar-smashers and puritan iconoclasts. On the other hand, many churches were “forgotten” by the Victorian restorers.
For some, picking and choosing is a heinous crime in terms of a foundational myth. I am not so against it as I once wrote in my article on Retro-futurism. What would things be like if… We could speculate forever, but I don’t believe everything has to be determined by strict historical continuity and precedent. Perhaps we can consider our Anglican Catholic Church as a kind of what if Henry VIII done things like Louis XIV and if the later kings and political powers had been more friendly with France.
If MacCulloch’s research has brought up a history of the Reformation that meant complete discontinuity with the pre-Reformation Church and all it represented (more or less identical with the rest of the Catholic Church in communion with Rome at the time), then it is difficult to justify Anglicanism as a “reformed Catholicism” in a hermeneutic of continuity. We would then be talking about two entities in the Church of England, the Protestant status quo and an independent Catholic church brought about ex nihilo by Anglican clergy, a “church within a church”. The Anglican Catholic Church and other similar continuing bodies would be the inheritors of that “church within a church” freed from the constraints imposed by Protestant bishops.
There are those who take the logic further and affirm that Anglican Catholicism is a spent and discredited force, and that the only way out is the Ordinariate, or simple conversion to Roman Catholicism before the Ordinariate was invented by Pope Benedict XVI. There have been streams of converts since the 1830’s and a few prior to that era. Some have done well in that process, and I am glad for them. Long may that particular sun shine before the next sou’-westerly!
How do we justify Anglican Catholicism? I would begin by the fact that it exists and is serving people who would not otherwise find a spiritual home. It brings people to God. Many analogies can be used, but I think of certain species of trees. If you cut their branches and plant them in the soil, they will sprout roots and grow. With other species, the branches will die because they are no longer attached to the trunk. I think of the Church like the first type of tree. But, the analogy has its limits. In the end of the day, the best apologia of a Church is not whether it is in union with Rome, whether it has proven historical and doctrinal continuity – but the pastoral argument. Does it do what Churches do and always have done, preaching the Gospel and giving the Christ-Sacrament-Mystery to the world?
Talking of kings who lived and died centuries ago, and who were not always good and humane men, is only an analogy in itself, hence the limits. I think a better descriptive expression can be found, and will be found in time. It doesn’t hurt to use words and ideas, even if they’re not yet on target.