Thomas More vs. the Reformation

Now that Hilary Mantel’s superb novels about Thomas Cromwell have been made into a TV series, Wolf Hall, her points about the good guys and bad guys in Tudor England are attracting attention and controversy.  Conventionally, Cromwell has been considered a Machiavellian villain who helped Henry VIII  break from the Church of Rome because of his romance with Anne Boleyn, only to later frame her for unfaithfulness.  His foil was Thomas More–later, St. Thomas More–the humanist scholar who refused to go along with these schemes at the cost of his life.

But Mantel portrays Cromwell as a decent man, carefully navigating the whims of an unstable king, while deftly advancing the cause of reform and Reformation in a corrupt society and a corrupt church.  More, on the other hand, as Mantel tells it, is a reactionary bigot, who sought to stamp out the Reformation by burning the “heretics” at the stake (which would include William Tyndale, for translating the Bible into English).

Now many Catholics are outraged at this treatment of their Renaissance saint, who has lately been held up as the model of the Christian intellectual who puts the laws of God over the laws of the state.  Mark Movesian goes so far as to say that Wolf Hall is part of the attack on religious liberty.  The depiction of More, he says, is an example of today’s mindset that the demands of the state should trump the teachings  of the church.  But, of course, it finally comes down to whether you support the beliefs of More or his victims.

Anthony Sacramone has given a quite brilliant Lutheran reply to all of this.  He includes what More said about Luther (who also opposed Henry VIII and his shenanigans), More’s defense of heretic burning, and what Purgatory meant to the people of the time. [Read more…]

Evangelicals who believe in Purgatory

It has long struck me how many evangelicals–including some of the most anti-Catholic–actually hold to a Roman Catholic soteriology, though without the sacraments, putting a big emphasis on the role of the will, good works, and moral perfection in salvation.  Now some evangelicals are advocating belief in Purgatory.  Scott McKnight reviews a book that makes the case for an evangelical doctrine of Purgatory. [Read more…]

The new culture war?

The liberal Catholic columnist E. J. Dionne says that the old culture wars are fading, but that a new culture war is taking shape.  The new one has to do with battles over immigration and poverty.  Complicating those controversies, he says, is that the Roman Catholic church of Pope Francis takes “liberal” positions on immigration and poverty, while still taking “conservative” positions on the old culture war issues of abortion and sex. [Read more…]

What a Shakespeare folio does not prove

A copy of the 1623 folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays has been discovered as part of a former Jesuit library in France.  This has re-ingnited speculation that Shakespeare was a Roman Catholic.  But, as Shakespeare scholar David Scott Kastan points out, that a Jesuit would own a copy of a Shakespeare book published after his death proves no such thing.  In fact, another folio in another Jesuit library was heavily censored for what the owners back then considered anti-Catholic sentiments. [Read more…]

Evangelicals take part in Vatican marriage conference

Evangelicals, Pentecostalists, and even Mormons took part in a recent Vatican conference on marriage, which was hosted by Pope Francis.  Southern Baptist social ministries spokesman Russell Moore was an invited speaker.  So was megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who was said to have turned the Roman Catholic meeting into a “revivalist meeting.”  (Does anyone know if any Lutherans participated?)  The Catholics gave the evangelicals a standing ovation.

Do you think this was a good thing–religious people of various stripes rallying in defense of marriage–or a problematic and potentially dangerous  bit of unionism? [Read more…]