etc // nanowrimo

A post on religion!

So I've been doing some reading about the English Reformation - writing research - and it's been a bit of a struggle because I really know very little about Catholicism. Heck, let's be honest... growing up I would always mark 'Methodist' on forms and surveys but I haven't been to church regularly since high school, so I only know slightly more about the Protestant side of thing. But it's interesting, and like I said... research.

I know the basics of Henry wanting his marriage with Catherine annulled, being refused, and eventually declaring himself the head of the Church of England. The politics of it make sense. However, I'm interested in the theological aspects. Did Henry just do it for expediency? For example, one of the articles I read mentioned that Henry didn't want to leave Catherine without getting his dispensation from the Pope because then Rome would have excommunicated him. Did he legitimately believe in the power of the Pope to keep him out of heaven, or was he afraid it would threaten his rule? I guess my question is... how devout a Catholic could Henry have been considering he up and usurped the Pope's power?

Thoughts? Reccs? Links?
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That's ... a really tough question, and the only way you can answer a lot of it for any specific person is if they left a theological journal (which was actually a Thing then, so there are a decent number around, but a lot of them are just from random people and you very rarely get one from the specific person you're researching). There were people who kept journals they wrote in every day detailing the state of their soul and their faith and what they were struggling with, but as far as I know we don't have any from English royalty.

But to answer your question as best I can, beliefs were in flux at that time. (Think of it like today when public perception of things like sex and specifically homosexuality are changing with breathtaking rapidity when you look on things as the time-scale of a culture.) What Henry believed when he started having issues producing an heir is not necessarily what he believed by the time he got around to kicking out the Catholic church and starting his own. And everyone is susceptible to interpreting Scripture and theology in ways that are beneficial to them and fit in their worldview--that's why, for example, we were required in my seminary to read theology by people from a wide range of backgrounds, so that we wouldn't get too tied down to any one cultural perspective.

In Henry's case, you have to remember that there were quite a lot of Protestants or would-be Protestants in England at the time, some of them making quite good arguments poking holes in things the Roman Catholic Church taught and believed. Once Henry started listening to them, and his interests and those of the Pope diverged, they would start to sound more reasonable than the Pope's understandings which would make him less likely to feel bound by the Pope's edicts which would make him more likely yo listen more to the Protestants ... and the more he listens the more he agrees and the less he cares about the Pope.

Please keep in mind that both Protestants and Catholics agreed (and still agree to this day) on the most important basics of the Christian faith. There were a lot of things they disagreed on--and disagreed vehemently on--but they all agreed on the trinity, they all agreed on the divinity of Jesus, they all agreed that Jesus was the savior, they all held baptism and communion to be very important rites, they might put different slants on all these things but the core of the faith remained the same. (No matter how much violence they put into insisting that it was all different.) It's like comparing a truck and a van: yes, they're different, and you often use them for different things, but they're still vehicles that run on internal combustion engines and are used to haul things.

No matter what the Pope thought, the Pope is not the core of Christianity, nor is Rome, nor is the idea of purgatory, or whether you believe in transubstantiation or memory as the core of communion. Being a devout Christian is not the same thing as being a devout Catholic, and it's quite possible that Henry started out thinking that they were one and the same and later realized that he could be a Christian without owing allegiance to Rome. But knowing for sure would take a spiritual journal, which we don't have from him.
Oh yay, I'm so excited to actually get a reply to this, you have no idea :)

When I started this little research project all I really knew about the differences between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity was 'Well they have a Pope and they ask the saints and Mary to intercede and apparently once you confess your sins and do penance everything is OK between you and God.' Getting to the nuances has been interesting and instructive. But I'm also interested in the psychology of it, which there's just not a lot of information about, despite the fact that the British people seemed to be getting spiritually yanked around by the short hairs by royalty... by Henry, and his son, and Mary, and Elizabeth... I do understand that there were some hard feelings against the Catholic Church to begin with, so Henry had his supporters, but it seems like it would have been really hard to be getting new marching orders every couple decades regarding whether or not you, personally, were likely to get into Heaven.

This all has come up because I'm working on a fantasy where one sect of a religion (which, I'm discovering, has more similarities to Protestantism) has been driven underground by another sect, lead by a king who has declared that he's - well, to borrow a phrase from my reading - the vicar of God. Sort of a reverse Reformation, as it turns out. So I've been looking into actual religious shifts in history to get a feel for how people at the time might have reacted to such a shift, and the motivations behind it. It's been... enlightening :)
I am a pastor by vocation and profession and a history geek by inclination--I love talking about this sort of thing!

Of course it was hard to get yanked around by their leaders like that! But that was common in all of Europe, at that time. In Northern Europe, Germany and Scandinavia and the like, the policy was "cuius regio, eius religio"--in other words, the local lord had the ability to say what religion his people would follow. (,_eius_religio) They had no idea how to handle religion other than semi-theocracy, where everybody in a region goes to the same church which supports and is supported by the government. Because that had been the way Christianity had worked in Europe for a long time. And it was really, really hard on people--there were regions of Germany in that time period where you might be born and baptized a Lutheran, be confirmed as a Catholic, and die as a Calvinist, as your duchy or principality changed hands. It was very hard on people but there wasn't any real concept that anything else was possible. That was why separation of church and state in the United States constitution was such a huge thing--a nation with no official religion hadn't ever happened on any kind of large scale. The best you got was some enlightened and tolerant places where the state supported one religious group but didn't persecute the others.

The thing is, if you look at the two thousand years Christianity has been around, every five hundred years or so on average we go through a major transition of one sort or another. It happened in the four and five hundreds, as Christianity got established in the Western Roman Empire at the same time as the Empire was collapsing. Then in the 1000s-1100s, things were very corrupt and a lot of learning had been lost and they were clawing their way from the Dark Ages to the Medieval era through monasticism and using that to bring order, education, and dedication to the clergy and through them to the rest of Christendom. Then in the 1500s-1600s you had the Reformation, where the church had gotten so powerful--and the traditions had gotten so entrenched and in some cases really far off from what the Bible says--that there was a huge backlash and other churches split off and were formed because the Roman hierarchy refused to change. (For a while. Eventually there came the Counter-Reformation, in which the Roman Catholics cleaned up their act, but it was too little, too late.) (We're also going through a major time of change now, in Christianity.)

There were a lot of people who were reading their Bibles that would never have actually read the Bible themselves a century earlier, and they were all noticing that the Roman Catholics believed all sorts of things that were nowhere to be found in the Bible. Worse, there was a lot of abuse. Celibacy for priests had been introduced in the middle ages to encourage moral uprightness among clergy; it had the opposite effect, just producing lots of priests with mistresses or who preyed sexually on their flock. So the Reformers thought that it was better for clergy to be married than to have mistresses. High church offices (bishops, archbishops, cardinals, etc.) were very powerful, so people would spend lots of money bribing people to get one. They'd make their money back by basically stealing from the church's funds. There were a lot of things like that that were huge problems.
I am a pastor by vocation and profession and a history geek by inclination--I love talking about this sort of thing!

I did not know that, but I'm glad :)

Also, fantastic background info. I'm definitely bookmarking all this to refer back to later, and I'll check out some of those titles from your other comment. I'm glad you say they're accessible to laypeople, because even in my initial wiki-based research I found myself having to click through to get definitions for different terms and concepts that I just wasn't familiar with. Thank goodness for the back button, or I would have been so lost!

At this point in my story I have people who are secretly clinging to their old religion, people who sincerely believe in the reforms, and people who could go either way but are going to support the king because it's the politically/economically smart thing to do. From what I've read, I think these are all reasonable reactions..?
Yes, those are all reasonable reactions, and there's a lot of complicated stuff to it.

Actually, you know what a good laypeople look at religion in Early Modern Europe is? The 1632 series by Eric Flint and company. Several novels and lots of short stories (many of which are only available in electronic form), about a small West Virginia town that got sent back in time to 1632 Germany. They do a pretty good job of handling religious complexity, particularly in the short stories.
Also, it's interesting to contrast the history of the Eastern and Western churches. In the West, the Roman Empire collapsed relatively early and so you had a lot of little, relatively powerless local leaders for a long time. So this international church, the Roman Catholic church, was able to gain quite a lot of power and influence. In the East, however, the Roman Empire lasted until the 1600s (we call it the "Byzantine" Empire). And the Emperors stayed quite powerful, so the church (while still important and influential) had a lot less power. In the West, a relatively weak Pope could still force a strong king to do things from about 500-1200. In the East, even a very strong and capable Patriarch (as close as the Eastern churches get to "a pope") couldn't force even a weak emperor to do anything he didn't want to do.

It's a fascinating subject. If you want to learn about political and theological infighting, the first five centuries of Christianity in the Byzantine Empire are fascinating, at times bizarre, and give another perspective on things that's quite different from Western religious history and thought.

Good books on the subject of Christian history are "The Story of Christianity" by Justo L. Gonzalez (Two volumes, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation and The Reformation to the Present Day) and "A History of Christian Theology" by William C. Placher. Both should be very readable for a layperson, and talk about how things developed and why and what was important about them. That would give you a background for how these things played out over a long scope of time.
For a good overview of what was going on in the rest of Europe that England was participating in and reacting to, I would suggest "The European Reformations" by Carter Lindberg. It does a good job of looking at both social factors (famine, plague, corruption, economic change) and theological factors and how those combined and reacted to form the Reformation.
I did start reading about the Eastern Orthodox Church, because a lot of fantasy religions seem to model themselves after Catholicism, with monks and monasteries and Pope-like figures and I'm always on the lookout for new inspiration. However, I found it harder to follow because I don't have as much context there as with western Christianity. Heck, I kept seeing the word 'Byzantine' being thrown around a lot and had no idea what they were talking about ;)