Church Education Trust



The Reformation in England.

Henry VIII (1509 - 1547).

The Reformation in England took a different course from that followed on the Continent. There was strong anti-papal feeling in the upper classes, and strong anticlerical feeling in the middle and lower classes. But the immediate cause of the break from Rome was not theological.

Henry VIII in his early years, was no doubt a sincere Roman Catholic, and when Luther published his book on the Babylonish Captivity, Henry wrote a treatise "On the Seven Sacraments", in which he spoke very contemptuously of Luther. The Pope was so pleased with Henry's treatise that he gave him the title of "Defender of the Faith".

But Henry applied for an annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, by whom he had only one surviving child, namely Mary. The pope refused Henry's application. When Henry called Parliament, he found the majority of the people were behind him. Henry there upon put himself in control of the Church of England, appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who was known to be a  Lutheran, and married Anne Boleyn.

These things constituted a definite breach with Rome, and began to open the way for a spiritual reformation. Thomas Cranmer was evangelical and interested in Luther's theology. Thomas Cromwell, the king's secretary and the most powerful man in the land, was also sympathetic to Reformation theology. Nevertheless the older bishops, headed by Gardiner of Winchester, were conservative and resistant.

They wished to retain the Catholic religion without the Pope. Henry intervened and had the Ten Articles of 1536 issued "to establish Christian quietness and unity in the land and to avoid contentious opinions. These made no real advance towards Reformation theology. In the same year the "Injunctions" of Cromwell were issued to explain the Ten Articles, and in 1538 a second set of Injunctions were issued.

One important result of these Articles and Injunctions was the permission to read the Bible and hear it read in the mother tongue. Some years before, Tyndale, inspired by Luther's German translation of the Scriptures, set himself to give English people a similar translation. But he was opposed in England and in 1524 went to Germany to continue his work.

He produced two editions of the English New Testament, in 1526 and 1534. In 1536 he was burned. It was mainly a revised edition of Tyndale's translation that was brought out by Coverdale in 1539 and adopted for use in parish churches. But in this same year Henry forced through Parliament the Six Articles which were strongly anti-Reformation and showed that there no prospect of theological reform while Henry was king.

Edward VI (1547 - 1553).

Edward VI was only ten years old when he came to the throne. He was evangelical in outlook, and the Privy Council and Parliament were also favourable to reformation. The leading figure in the reforming movement was Thomas Cranmer. Parliament passed legislation abolishing the Six Articles of Henry VIII and other measures.

In 1549 the first Prayer Book of Edward VI was published: the whole service was now in English for the first time: it was based on Scripture and the mass was abolished. Meanwhile, in 1547, Charles V had defeated the German Protestant princes and refugees fled to England. Men like Ridley and Hooper, who had earlier fled to the Continent, also returned.

All these men gave support to the Reformation movement. Cranmer re-established the authority of Scripture and preached Luther's doctrine of justification by faith. On the Eucharist, he differed from Luther; he believed in the real presence of the Lord, but in the believer, not in the elements. In 1552 the Second Prayer-book of Edward VI was brought out: in this the word 'table' was used instead of 'altar'. The preparation of this Prayer Book was mainly the work of Cranmer.

Mary (1553 - 1558).

There were three parties in England in 1553, the Catholics, the Protestants and a party which was anxious to restore Catholicism, but without the Pope. This party preferred Catholicism to the theology of both Luther and Calvin and this party enabled Mary to succeed to the throne. Mary was an intolerant Catholic, determined to restore Roman Catholicism to England.

She repealed the legislation of Edward VI, deposed and imprisoned the Protestant Bishops Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley and Coverdale and reinstated the Romanists, such as Gardiner, who had been deposed under Edward VI. In 1554 she married Philip of Spain, son of the Emperor Charles V.

In the same year Cardinal Pole was brought back from Rome, and Parliament received absolution from him, and the kingdom was received again into "the unity of our Mother the Holy Church". The Pope was again the head of the English Church. A number of imprisoned Protestants produced a signed statement, saying that they were condemned for holding doctrine in accordance with Scripture, the Creeds and the Fathers; they affirmed justification by faith alone and disavowed the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Cardinal Pole ordered them to be tried for heresy. John Rogers, who had completed Tyndale's translation of the Bible, was the first to go to the stake. On October 16th 1555, Ridley and Latimer were burnt at Oxford in front of Balliol College. Cranmer was degraded and handed over to the secular authorities for execution. He was prevailed upon under pressure to sign a recantation.

But at the end he rose triumphant; in St. Mary's Church, Oxford, on March 21st, 1556, he publicly renounced his recantantion and refused the Pope, as Christ's enemy and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine. At the stake he strethed forth the right hand which had signed the recantation and watched it burn first, then died with the words of the first martyr on his lips, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

Altogether about 300 perished at the stake during Mary's r reign, while a number also died in prison from famine and disease. Finally, in November 1558, after a bitter and tragic life, Mary herself died, wretched and unhappy. Within twelve hours, Pole also died. The Catholic reaction under Mary was a total and ignominious failure.

Elizabeth (1558 - 1603)

Elizabeth was surrounded by many perils on succeeding to the throne. England's economic position was not strong. There was a change in the Roman Catholic outlook. There had been a considerable reform in the general level of morality and integrity in the Roman Church. The leaders of Rome were men of higher character and purpose, but they were also militant and aggressive.

The rise of the Jesuits under Ignatius Loyola infused a new faith, enthusiasm and devotion into Catholicism and gave rise to the training of men for the promotion of the Catholic religion and the destruction of Protestantism. There was a Counter-Reformation in the Roman Church.

It could count on the military assistance of France and Spain to prevent Protestantism being established in England. Elizabeth also had a strong rival claimant to the throne in Mary, Queen of Scots. She also had to make a religious settlement in England. Elizabeth was not in herself a strongly spiritually minded person.

She was Protestant and anti-papal almost of necessity, rather than deep, religious conviction. She had to maintain an Anglican Church. The people of England were slowly becoming Protestant. There was great disgust among many of the people at the Marian executions. In 1559 the Act of Supremacy was passed, making Elizabeth the supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the Act of Uniformity, requiring all to join in one public worship and authorising again the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI with some modifications.

Matthew Parker was appointed to succeed Pole as Archbishop of Canterbury. As many clergy felt the need for a clear doctrinal statement, he set to work with the aid of others to produce what eventually became the Thirty-Nine Articles; they set forth Reformed doctrine and were anti-Roman in character.

During the early part of Elizabeth's reign the moderate Romanists accepted the Queen's religious settlement and conformed to its provisions. The more extreme kind realised that this policy would weaken the Catholic cause, and they set themselves to bring more Catholics into the country and train men to promote the cause of Romanism.

In 1470 the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and released Englishmen from their allegiance to her and to England. At the same time events on the continent made it plain that Catholicism was not merely a different way of interpreting Christianity, but was bound up with intrigue and treason. These things resulted in severe legislation being passed against Catholics. It was declared high treason to deprive the Queen of her title to the throne and to introduce papal bulls into the country.

This period also saw the rise of Puritanism in England. Puritanism was based on Calvin's theology, his doctrine of election and grace and the authority of the Bible. It found Elizabeth's religious settlement too compromising. Prominent in the rise of the Puritan movement was Thomas Cartwright, who maintained that the Church was entitled to regulate its doctrine and worship by the Word of God without restriction by the State, the Head of the Commonwealth being only a member of the Church, not its Governor.

Cartwright was learned and deeply religious, but intolerant. The Puritans believed in "parity of ministers", which meant the abolition of the episcopacy. The ultimate authority was to be a national synod. Elizabeth regarded the Puritan move to Presbyterianise the Church as a grave threat and resisted the movement.

As a result she incurred considerable unpopularity. But she regained the love of her people by the magnificent spirit she showed under the threat of the Spanish Armada. The victory of 1588 was a great deliverance for Protestantism. So in the reign of Elizabeth, the foundations of England's civil and religious greatness were solidly laid.

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