Reform or Revolution

Cambridge historian Eamon Duffy has a new book out, and this article highlights his approach. Duffy has avoided propaganda and worked with primary documentation to show that the Protestant Reformation in England was more along the lines of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in Red China. A whole complex and beautiful culture was systematically and brutally destroyed. Churches and monasteries stripped and destroyed, libraries burnt, music banned–by the reign of Elizabeth I the English existed in a police state similar to those in Communist Europe during the Iron Curtain era. Read Duffy’s work if you don’t believe me.

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  • Ron

    Duffy’s work is excellent. His book “The Stripping of the Altars” will forever change your views on the Reformation. I am anxious to read this new one. I wish more would take advantage of his work. Thanks for posting this.

  • Al Bergstrazer

    It is a deplorable attribute of we poor sinners that in our vigorous defense of what we believe we will without realizing it, gladly (and sometimes violently) become that which we abhor most.

  • Tomtom

    I hope the readers see the article in the link. It’s a bit over 1.000 words. The comments show a bit of the public’s mood.

  • flyingvic

    And, to judge from this article and your blog, he is wrong. For one thing, there is very little connection between Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Communist Europe’s police states.

    Perhaps the book goes into greater detail and fuller explanation; but certain facts seem so far to be systematically underplayed: it is a fact that there was a movement against Rome’s domination that spread right across Europe in the years before Henry VIII joined in, one bone of contention being the provision of the scriptures and worship in a language that the ordinary people could understand. (Rome recognised this need herself, eventually, and produced the Douai Bible by the end of the sixteenth century; worship took a little longer.) It was, therefore, not Henry alone in Europe who attacked “a corrupt pseudo-Christianity”. It is a fact that the medieval period, including feudalism and the medieval monastic movement, was over by the time of King Henry. Monasticism as it had so long survived was no longer a major player in the economy, welfare, social and educational structure of sixteenth century England. It was weak, in places undeniably corrupt, and increasingly unable to fulfil its traditional function within society. It is a fact that Henry was desperate, for the very best of reasons, to ensure a strong presence on the throne of England after his death: he knew well the horrors of recent civil war that had partly resulted from weak kingship, and believed that a strong male heir was necessary to avoid them. (Had he known how strong a monarch his daughter Elizabeth would prove to be then perhaps he would not have worried – and how different history might have been!) Put these facts together. If the only way, thought Henry, to ensure a male heir is a new wife, and the only way to ensure a new wife is to break with the authority of the Pope, so be it. The corollary? To have institutions the length and breadth of the country who would still owe allegiance to Rome woulds undoubtedly prejudice national security – and the fact that they were so often already moribund made them an obvious, necessary and easy target. (I very much doubt that a monarch of a century previous could have got away with it.) The monasteries had to go, thought Henry; and a new social order was established which arguably did indeed lay the foundation for the expansion into empire – and for Americans to speak English rather than French, for example. As we know, when a popular movement gathers momentum it is no longer capable of being controlled, and so much more was destroyed, perhaps, than was ever intended. But this was not, I am quite sure, to be compared with the deliberate social, cultural and politically dogmatic destructiveness of Mao.

    And a police state? Quite possibly. If the nations of Europe, like Spain, who still reacted to the political meddlings of the Pope had indeed combined to attack and invade England – as they tried to do with the Armada – they might well have been counted irresistibly powerful. How does any state in any age react to that kind of external threat?

    And how should we reflect upon what happened? That God wished England to survive and prosper? That God disapproved of political popes, or of military action undertaken “in God’s name”? How do you read it?

  • SteveD

    … and how should we reflect upon what happened? That God wished the Catholic Church to survive and prosper in the world, to retain its position as easily the largest group of believers and to revive in England to become the largest active denomination? The fact is that Henry enriched himself personally and enormously by stealing the assets of the monasteries and everyone knew it. He was realistic enough, at the time of his death, to leave an endowment for the establishment of a home for the indigent poor in the very far west of still Catholic Ireland with the proviso that the inmates pray for his soul every night – which they still do!

  • flyingvic

    The initial impression given by the blog and the quoted article was that the destruction and despoliation of the monasteries was as deliberate and intentional in its own right as Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I disagreed. The fact is that Henry undoubtedly enriched himself through the dissolution of the monasteries – but that was an event that happened some way down the line from the original actions that set the whole business in train; and Thomas Cromwell may have been far-sighted enough to see the possibilities long before Henry himself did.

  • SteveD

    Your charity towards Henry is commendable but his actions can quite easily be read as arising from a combination of lust (first), greed (maybe a little further down the line) and pride rather than considerations about the security of the realm which I don’t think that even he ever claimed.

  • mike cliffson

    flying vic:
    I have not read Duffy’s book, but plenty of others, especially the slow churning out of small aspects of history- and there is much more I have never been able to, now will. .All jibes with the quotes FR longenecker makes.I am sure I sympathize with Henry VIII, in that the devil can and has led my by the nose in the same way. I sympathize more with his victims , easily of the order of 100 thousand by Elizabeth’s time.
    You could quote a similar series of facts, running from abused altarboys to nunbuses right this minute to justify a totalitalarian usa, starting in with taking over the catholic church , and some body will be there, there always is someone- to justify it five centuries hence.
    Junk your encyclopedias and read some history.

  • flyingvic

    I’m not at all sure that I know what you’re talking about, or even what you’re trying to say. So instead of appearing rather rude, why not indicate where you disagree with me – if you do – and how you would go about equating Henry VIII with Chairman Mao. And while you’re at it, perhaps you could indicate the source of any ‘facts’ you care to quote.

  • flyingvic

    Oh, but he did – as with many medieval monarchs the succession became an obsession. And my charity only extends as far as wanting for him a balanced hearing, never guaranteed on a Roman Catholic blog! That he became a monster, corrupted by absolute power, is certainly arguable. It is much less clear – or even likely – that he was the kind of destructive monomaniac from Day One that Mao appears to have been. And to his dying day he maintained that the pope had wronged him . . .

  • veritas

    I would have hoped the time had long past when anyone would be attempting to excuse Henry VIII.

    A study of Henry’s wife Catherine of Aragon will show an incredibly saintly woman: a woman of great faith and of great charity, who was loyal to her adulterous husband even to the end. She refused to instigate rebellion against him, yet it is now known – a fact which Anglican historians declined to mention in former years- that Henry was actually seriously contemplating her murder before she died. There is also no question that she died prematurely because of the incredibly vicious way Henry had instructed her to be treated. Similarly, Henry’s treatment of his daughter Mary was appalling. His attempts to force her to deny the legitimacy of her own much loved mother was an exercise in child abuse rarely equaled. It is now known that Henry was seriously considering having Mary executed had his death not come when it did.

    The dissolution of the monasteries was an act of barbarism rarely equaled in medieval times. The monasteries were the social service system of their time. They provided medical care, food and housing assistance and, of course, education. The pathetic excuses produced for their dissolution were nothing but an attempt to excuse the inexcusable. The destruction of the monasteries left hundreds of thousands of people with no social welfare and ruthless Henry did nothing to provide an alternative. Instead he simply made sure that the wealth from the monasteries went to those who supported him. In addition, the monks and nuns expelled from the monasteries themselves added to the pool of poor and destitute because no assistance was offered to them. Henry himself oversaw this dissolution. To argue that somehow it happened independently of him is arrant nonsense and flies absolutely in the face of historical facts.

    The Pope had been the recognised leader of the Church in England for a thousand years. Henry changed the law so that anybody who did not acknowledge the legitimacy of Henry’s usurpation of the leadership of the Church, which made him the new head of the Church, was now a traitor.

    Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More had both been long time friends and tutors of Henry. What sort of person would engineer circumstances to force his two friends and tutors into a situation where they would have to condemn themselves as traitors because of a trumped up law, and because they would not acknowledge an illegitimate divorce followed by an adulterous marriage? Henry did this and then had his two friends, two heroes of the faith, executed.

    Henry VIII was one of the most despicable people in English history, a truly barbaric man. The time has well past when the Anglican historians can continue to dominate the shelves of English history, distort and ignore the facts and attempt to whitewash what turned out to be the darkest moment of English history.

    When I was a member of the Anglican Church I had to listen to pathetic attempts to excuse Henry. After all they could hardly admit the founder of their church was a ruthless, lecherous, womanising, brutal, two faced, friend betraying despot. Fortunately as the period has been studied more objectively the real picture is emerging.

  • flyingvic

    “Excuse”, veritas? No, just trying to balance the kind of one-sided diatribe like this that attempts to paint Henry and all his works in the simplistic black and white of revisionist history.

  • veritas

    Having been in the Anglican Church and been bombarded with sickeningly distorted anti-Catholic excuses for Henry’s actions, which never once mentioned the noble character of his wife Catherine, the suffering she endured at his hands or the devastating effects of the dissolution of the monasteries, I am so glad to be away from that.

    My post is a “one-sided diatribe” and “the simplistic black and white of revisionist history” because it dares to challenge the Anglican monopoly that has dictated to us for the last 400 years what we are supposed to believe about the English so-called Reformation.

  • flyingvic

    Henry contemplated murder? I believe some of the Borgias did the same. It seems to have been part of the stock-in-trade of renaissance monarchs. Nobody now suggests that it was right; nobody now should suggest that Henry was the only one.

    The legitimacy of Mary’s mother? This was at the root of the whole business. Henry was forced as a child to marry someone he didn’t want to – his brother’s widow – in clear contravention of the contemporary understanding of scripture. So clear was this contravention held to be that the Pope had to allow the ban to be lifted by a special decree. How ironic that Rome now says, for example, that there cannot be the ordination of women because the Church “does not have the authority to do so.” Back in the day, when political chicanery was apparently more important to the Pope than theological justification, he had no problems about finding “authority” to do exactly as he wanted.

    The monasteries HAD been the Social Services, etc., of their time, but were so no longer. They had formed part of a social order – feudalism – that was already passing away. Of course he made sure his supporters had their loyalty confirmed by generous gifts – the same thing happened again a hundred years later around the time of the Civil War: the winners got rich, the losers were impoverished. I make no comment about right or wrong – it is the way of the world and it is naive to expect otherwise. I seriously doubt whether Henry set out to try and annul his marriage with the set intention of dissolving the monasteries along the way or even of breaking with Rome – that’s why he started out by going to court rather than simply by declaring his independence straight away. (Far more likely, as I tried to suggest, that Thomas Cromwell, a noted Reformer, might have had his eyes on the treasures of the monasteries earlier than did the king himself.)

    “Friends” are always in danger close to a king – as Becket amongst others found out. There is a heavy price to be paid for familiarity and the perceived access to power. Fail to do what the king wants and your life may well have been forfeit – Thomas Cromwell’s too.

    Henry was “a ruthless, lecherous, womanising, brutal, two faced, friend betraying despot”? And that is, of course, a description that could sit equally well on the shoulders of any number of rulers – kings and popes, catholic and protestant – through the European centuries. Balance demands, not that criticism should be muted, but that it should be fair, not skewed by the changing perspective of religious conversion.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    “not skewed by the changing perspective of religious conversion.”–or by being employed by the church founded by such a monster…

  • flyingvic

    I notice that you omitted my word ‘fair’ from the phrase you quoted. Interesting! Perhaps you can tell me then, Father, where in my comments about Henry I have been mistaken? Or unbalanced? Or unfair?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    You’re biased in favor of Henry VIII because you’re an Englishman and an Anglican priest. I’m biased against him because I see how he brutally destroyed the Catholic Church in England.

  • flyingvic

    Not good enough! Where on this thread have I spoken less than the truth, or shown bias in favour of Henry?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    You said his motives were noble. This is something which cannot be proven one way or another. You believe they were good. I don’t. That’s where our bias comes in.

  • flyingvic

    Noble? I certainly didn’t use that word! The results of his policies are plain to see. Where we differ is that you appear to believe that he set out to destroy the power of Rome in this country from Day One – and that is clearly not the case. Why? When he started the process of trying to get his first marriage set aside (Is there any serious doubt that he wanted at that time above all a strong male heir? Is it so unreasonable to suggest that he wanted to avoid a return to the chaos of the Wars of the Roses? or wrong of him to do so?) he went first to the ecclesiastical courts. He asked the Pope’s permission. The Pope had granted a dispensation to allow the marriage in the first place; now Henry was asking for a Papal dispensation to set it aside – and on the certain grounds of Scripture. Does that sound to you like a man hell-bent on dissolving the monasteries?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I don’t think he intended at first what was the end result. I doubt it Hitler at first intended or envisioned the death camps. I believe his intentions and motives were probably mixed–like everyone’s. He wanted a male heir and stability for his kingdom, but he also wanted to bed Anne Boleyn. He wanted to consolidate power for the cause of stability, but he also saw what rich pickings the monasteries provided.

  • flyingvic

    “I don’t think he intended at first what was the end result.” Thank you – that’s what I’ve been saying all along!