HENRY VIII. SEPARATES ENGLAND FROM THE PAPACY. (CHRISTMAS 1533 TO JUNE 1534.)
THE maid of Kent having been executed, her partisans rallied round another woman, who represented the Romish system in its highest features, as Elizabeth Barton had represented it in its more vulgar phase.
After the nun came the queen.
Catherine had always claimed the honors due to the Queen of England, and her attendants yielded them to her. ‘We made oath to her as queen,’ they said, ‘and the king cannot discharge our consciences.’ Whenever Lord Mountjoy, royal commissioner to the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, called her ‘princess ,’ she raised her head haughtily and said to him: ‘You shall answer for this before God.’ ‘Ah!’ exclaimed Mountjoy, fretted by the vexations of his office, ‘I would a thousand times rather serve the king in the most dangerous cause!’ Mary having also received an injunction to drop her title of princess, made answer: ‘I shall believe no such order, unless I see his Majesty’s signature.’ The most notable partisans of Roman catholicism, and even the ambassador of Charles V., paid the queen frequent visits. Henry became uneasy, and shortly before Christmas he took measures to remove her from her friends. Catherine opposed everything. Suffolk wrote to the king: ‘I have never seen such an obstinate woman.’ But there was a man quite as obstinate, and that was Henry.
His most cherished desires had not been satisfied: he had no son. Should he chance to die, he would leave two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth; the former supported by the partisans of the old times, the latter by those of the new. Civil war would probably decide to whom the crown should belong. It was necessary to prevent such a misfortune. The Lords and Commons, therefore, petitioned the king, no doubt at his instigation, that his marriage with Lady Catherine should be declared null, and her child illegitimate; that his marriage with Queen Anne should be recognized as valid, and the children issuing from it alone entitled to succeed. All classes of people immediately took the statutory oath; even the monks bowed their heads. They said: ‘Bound to render to our king Henry VIII. and to him alone after Jesus Christ, fidelity and worship, we promise inviolable obedience to our said lord as well as to our most serene Queen Anne, his wife, and to their children; and we profess perpetual respect for the holy and chaste marriage which they have legitimately contracted.’ This forced testimony, borne to Anne by the monastic orders, is one of the numerous monuments of the despotism of Henry VIII. and of the moral weakness of the monks.
But in this oath of allegiance the king had meditated a more important object — to banish the papacy from England. The monks bound themselves not only to recognize the prescribed order of succession, but further to substitute the primacy of the king for that of the pope. ‘We affirm,’ they said, ‘that King Henry is the head of the Anglican Church, that the Roman bishop, falsely styled pope and sovereign pontiff, has no more authority than any other bishop; and we promise to preach Christ simply and openly according to the rule of Scripture and of the orthodox and catholic doctors.’ A sign, a word from the State was sufficient to make the papal army pass from the camp of Rome to the camp of the king.
The ‘famous question,’ that of the Romish jurisdiction, was also put before the two universities. On the 2nd May Cambridge declared, that ‘all its doctors having carefully examined the Holy Scriptures, had not discovered the primacy of the pope in them.’ The clergy of the province of York, led by the archbishop Edward Lee, a churchman full of talent, activity, and vanity, stoutly resisted at first; but eventually the prelate wrote to the king on the 2nd June that ‘according to the unanimous opinion of his clergy, the pope in conformity with the Holy Scriptures had no more authority in England than any other foreign ecclesiastic.’ Henry, not content with the proclamations of his council and the declarations of parliament, required for his separation from Rome the suffrage of the Church; and the Church, probably more from weakness than conviction, gave it. However, without reckoning the members of the clergy who, like the primate, wanted no pope, there were many bishops who, at heart, were not sorry to be liberated from the perpetual encroachments of the Roman court.
A rumor from the continent suddenly disquieted the king among all his easy triumphs; a more formidable enemy than those monks and bishops was rising against him. It was reported that the emperor was not only recruiting soldiers in Flanders, but was forwarding considerable numbers from Bohemia, Germany, Italy, and Spain for the invasion of England. Francis I. could not permit this kingdom, so close to his own, to be occupied by the armies of Charles V. his constant enemy; he determined therefore to have an interview with Henry, and to that intent sent over the Seigneur De la Guiche, his chamberlain and counsellor, Henry replied that it would be difficult to leave England just at a time when pope and emperor spoke of invading him; the more so as he must leave his ‘most dearly beloved queen’ (Anne Boleyn) and his young daughter, the Princess Elizabeth; as well as another daughter and her mother, the aunt of Charles V., whose partisans were conspiring against him. ‘Ask my good brother the king,’ said Henry to De la Guiche, ‘to collect a fleet of ships, galleys, and barks to prevent the emperor’s landing. And in case that prince should invade either France or England, let us agree that the one who is not called upon to defend his own kingdom shall march into Charles’s territories.’
However, Henry consented to go as far as Calais. There was another invasion which, in Henry’s eyes, was much more to be dreaded. That king — a greater king perhaps than is ordinarily supposed — maintained that no prince, whether his name was Charles or Clement, had any business to meddle with his kingdom. The act of the 23rd March; by which the pope had condemned him, had terminated his long endurance: Clement VII. had declared war against him and Henry VIII. accepted it. A man, though he be ordinarily the slave of his passions, has sometimes impulses which belong to great characters. Henry determined to finish with the pope as the pope had finished with him. He will declare himself master in his own island; dauntlessly he will brave Rome and the imperial power ready to assail him. Erelong the fire which consumed him appeared to kindle his subjects. The political party, at the head of which were Suffolk and Gardiner, was ready to give up the papacy, even while maintaining the dogmas of catholicism. The evangelical party desired to go farther, and drive the catholic doctrines out of England. These two hostile sections united their forces against the common enemy.
At the head of the evangelicals, who were eventually to prevail under the son of Henry VIII., were two, men of great intelligence, destined to be powerful instruments in the enfranchisement of England. Cranmer, the ecclesiastical leader of the party, gave way too easily to the royal pressure; but being a moderate theologian, a conscientious Christian, a skillful administrator, and indefatigable worker, he carefully studied the Scriptures, the Fathers, and even the Schoolmen; he took note of their sayings, and strengthened by their opinions, continued the work of the Reformation with calmness and perseverance. Beside him stood Cromwell, the lay leader of protestant feeling. Gifted in certain respects with a generous character, he loved to benefit those who had helped him in adversity; but too attentive to his — own interests, he profited by the Reformation to increase his riches and honors. Inferior to Cranmer in moral qualities, he had a surer and a wider glance than the primate; he saw clearly the end for which he must strive and the means necessary to be employed, and combined much activity with his talents. These leaders were strongly supported, certain number of ministers and lay members of the Church desired an evangelical reform in England. Latimer, a popular orator. was the tribune commissioned to scatter through the nation the principles whose triumph Cranmer and Cromwell sought. He preached throughout the whole extent of the province of Canterbury; but if his bold language enlightened the well-disposed, it irritated the priests and monks. His great reputation led to his being invited to preach before the king and queen.
Cranmer, fearing his incisive language and sarcastic tone, begged him to say nothing in the pulpit that would indicate any soreness about his late disgrace. ‘In your sermon let not any sparkle or suspicion of grudge appear to remain in you. If you attack with the Word of God any sin or superstition, do it without passion.’ Latimer preached, and Anne Boleyn was so charmed by his evangelical Christian eloquence, and apostolic zeal, that she made him her chaplain. Latimer takes his place by the side of Cranmer among the reformers of the English Church.
The evangelical and the political parties being thus to support the prince, Henry determined to strike the decisive blow. On the 9th June, 1534, about months after he had been condemned at Rome, signed at Westminster the proclamation ‘for the abolishing of the usurped power of the pope.’ The king declared: ‘That having been acknowledged next after God, supreme head of the Church of England, he abolished the authority of the bishop of Rome throughout his realm, and commanded all bishops to preach and have preached, every Sunday and holy day, the sweet and sincere Word of the Lord; to teach that the jurisdiction of the Church belongs to him alone, and to blot out of all canons, liturgies, and other works the name of the bishop of Rome and his pompous titles, so that his name and memory be never more remembered in the kingdom of England, except to his contumely and reproach. By so doing you will advance the honor of God Almighty, manifest the imperial majesty of your sovereign lord, and procure for the people unity, tranquillity, and prosperity.’
Would these orders be executed? If there remained in any university, convent, parish, or even in any wretched presbytery, a breviary in which the name of the pope was written; if on the altar of any poor country church a missal was found with these four letters unerased — it was a crime. If every weed be not plucked up, thought the king’s counsellors, the garden will soon be entirely overrun. The obstinacy of the clergy, their stratagems, their pious frauds were a mystery to nobody. Henry was persuaded, and his counsellors still more so, that the bishops would make no opposition; they resolved therefore to direct the sheriffs to see that the king’s orders were strictly carried out. ‘We command you,’ said that prince, ‘under pain of our high indignation, to put aside all human respect, to place God’s glory solely before you, and, at the risk of exposing yourselves to the greatest perils, to make and order diligent search to be made. Inform yourselves whether in every part of your county the bishop executes our commands without veil or dissimulation. And in case you should observe that he neglects some portion, or carries out our orders coldly, or presents this measure in a bad light, we command you strictly to inform us and our council with all haste. ‘If you hesitate or falter in the commission we give you, rest assured that being a prince who loves justice, we will punish you with such severity that all our subjects will take care for the future not to disobey our commands.’
Everybody could see that Henry was in earnest, and immediately after this energetic proclamation, those who were backward hastened to make their submission. The dean and chapter of St. Paul’s made their protest against the pope on the 20th June. On the 27th the University of Oxford, in an act where they described the King as ‘that most wise Solomon,’ declared unanimously that it was contrary to the Word of God to acknowledge any superiority whatsoever in the bishop of Rome. A great number of churches and monasteries set their seals to similar declarations. Such was the first pastoral of the prince who claimed now to govern the Church. He seemed desirous of making it a mere department of the State.
Henry allowed the bishops to remain, but he employed the functionaries of police and justice to overlook their episcopate; and that office was imposed upon them in such terms that they must necessarily look sharp after the transgressors. First and foremost the king wanted his own way in his family, in the State, and in the Church. The latter was to him as a ship which he had just captured, the captain was driven out, but for fear lest he return, he threw overboard all who he thought might betray him. With haughty head and naked sword Henry VIII. entered the new realm which he had conquered. He was far from resembling Him whom the prophets had announced: Behold thy king cometh unto thee, meek and lowly.
The power in the Church having been taken from the pope, to whom should it have been committed?
Scripture calls the Christian people a holy nation, a royal priesthood; words which show that, after God, the authority belongs to them. And, in fact, the first act of the Church, the election of an apostle in the place of Judas, was performed by the brethren assembled in one place. When it became necessary to appoint deacons, the twelve apostles once more summoned ‘the multitude of the disciples.’ And later still, the evangelists, the delegates of the flocks, were selected by the voice of the churches. It is a principle of reason, that authority, where a corporate body is concerned, resides in the totality of its members. This principle of reason is also that of the Word of God.
When the Church became more numerous it was Called upon to delegate (at least partially) a power that it could no longer exercise wholly of itself.
In the apostolic age the Christians, called to form this delegation, adopted the forms with which they were familiar. After the pattern of the council of elders, which existed in the Jewish synagogues, and of the assembly of decurions, which exercised municipal functions in the cities of the pagans, the Christian Church had in every town a council, composed of men of irreproachable life, vigilant, prudent, apt to teach, but distinct from those who were called doctors, evangelists, or ministers of the Word. Still the Christians never entertained the idea of giving themselves a universal chief, after the image of the emperor. Jesus Christ and his Word were amply sufficient. It was not until many centuries later that this and- Christian institution appeared in history.
The authority, which in England had been taken away from the pope, should return in accordance with scriptural principles to the members of the Church; and if, following the example of the primitive Christians, they had adopted the forms existing in their own country in the sixteenth century, they would have placed as directors of the Church — Christ remaining their sole king one or two houses or assemblies, authorized to provide for the ecclesiastical administration, the maintenance of a pure faith, and the spiritual prosperity of that vast body. These assemblies would have been composed, as in the primitive times, of a majority of Christian laymen, with the addition of ministers; and both would have been elected by believers whose faith was in conformity with that of the Church. But was there at that time in England a sufficient number of enlightened Christians to become members of these assemblies, and even to hold the elections which were to appoint them? It is doubtful. They were not to be found even in Germany. ‘I have nobody to put in them,’ said Luther; ‘but if the thing becomes feasible, I shall not be wanting in my duty.’ This form of government not being possible in England then, according to the Reformer’s expression, two other forms offered themselves. If the first were adopted, the authority would be remitted to the clergy; but that would have been to perpetuate the doctrines and rites of popery and to lead back infallibly to the domination of Rome. The most dangerous government for the Church is the government of priests: they commony rob it of liberty, spontaneousness, evangelical faith, and life.
There remained no alternative then but to confide the supreme authority in the Church to the State; and this is what was generally done in the sixteenth century. But men of the greatest experience in these matters have agreed that the government of the religious society by the civil power can only be a temporary expedient, and have universally proclaimed the great principle, ‘that the essence of all society is to be governed by itself.’ To deny this axiom would be utterly contrary not only to liberty, but, further still, contrary to justice.
We must not forget when we speak of the relations between Church and State, that there are three different systems:— the government of the Church by the State; the union of the Church, governing itself, with the State; and their complete separation. There is no reason for pronouncing here upon the relative value of the two last systems.