The Erosion of Freedom

On this feast day of St Thomas More we do well to remember that the Tudor Revolution in England (sometimes given the euphemistic term: Reformation) was not immediately violent and catastrophic.

It began with Henry VIII and his counsellors deciding that the church courts should not deal with cases of civil law. In the Middle Ages the church courts were the only form of objective justice and all of Europe accepted that the clerks and justices were also usually high ranking clergy. By the time of the Tudors an increasing number of lay men were being trained in law and the Tudor regime decided that matters of civil law should not be decided by ecclesiastical courts. In other words, they started gradually and incrementally to enforce a doctrine of separation of church and state.

The history of the time period is often simplified as “Jolly old Henry VIII was a bit of a lad and wanted to marry his pretty little mistress Anne Boleyn. The Pope was a dull old spoil sport and blocked it so Henry VIII did what any good, red blooded Englishman would do–told the Pope to get off his island.” Not quite. Read more.

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  • Steve

    This is a GREAT write up to supplement your article (who cares if it says SSPX they will be back in 100% with the Church soon anyways plus they don’t teach heresy anyways). Pope Leo XIII on “americanism’

    Basically, 9 popes have condemned ‘religious liberty’ b/c ‘error is not a right’ plus we cannot sit back & say we just don’t want to pay for genocide & contraception & let the heretics & pagans pay for it. Christ is king of all & wouldn’t want anyone paying for this evil

  • Greg Cook

    Father, your reference to the “stripping of the altars” is trenchant. Duffy’s book of the same name is one of the most heartbreaking works of church history I can imagine. St. Thomas More is a fitting patron for raising awareness about encroachment of state into Church, and I hope many will be curious to learn more (wasn’t intending the pun, but there it is) about him. I hope to read the new book just out by mark Shriver about how his dad served the public and his family. Shriver’s story is a perhaps-sad reminder that not too long ago we had faithful (not just nominal) Catholics serving in government from all across the political spectrum.

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  • Wisconsin Mom

    Thanks for this insightful post, Father. My question, with For Greater Glory also quite fresh in my mind, is how do we know if we should take up arms and fight vs. kneeling down to be shot? Any tips on discernment? Viva Cristo Rey!

  • mike cliffson

    And the prime real estate town(often what a few generation previous had been greenfield plots when built were now VERY desirable real estate- which you rather confiscate, an acre in times sq. or a thousand acres in the sticks?) microconvents, priories, and chantry chapels – dosh for the Kings friends and merchant supportersa nd venal MPS, misery for the urban poor and occasionally out of work. And they ended up burning every library or history book in the kingdom, be it noted – you think , even if you’re Not catholic, you’re not gonna miss that?

  • tz

    They shredded the 4th amendment with national security letterz – writs of assistance. They destroyed habeas corpus. They introduced torture. They sent infiltrators into the religous houses of worship. They found down-and-out people to entrap with offers of cash money to maybe do something. They scan people so they appear naked – you can see their private parts. And they fondle them during searches. Then they try to deny any self defense. Force people to buy something from a local cartel as condition of citizenship itself?

    ll that happened starting with, but really before the PATRIOT act, but they weren’t then coming for Catholics so most catholics cheered AND CONTINUE TO CHEER the utter destruction of liberty ztarted by BISHOP Steven Langdon in the Magna Charta, and developed in our Constitution. They were the less than human muslim terrorist towel-heads (think fetus as seen by an abortionist). Liberty already died to thunderous applause.

    Catholics want a police state, but draw the line at paying for contraception. Fortnight for what again? Half of one of the 10 amendments of the bill of rights. The preamble of the Magna Charta?

    Treating freedom and liberty with contempt – except for a corrupt carve-out? Then cheer the remaining tyranny?

    Tell me, will the illegal aliens Obama said he won’t now deport be required to buy health insurance, or is that just for citizens?

  • flyingvic

    “The history of the time period is often simplified as “Jolly old Henry VIII was a bit of a lad . . .” Not on this side of the pond, Father; certainly not by anyone with an ounce of history in their heads. Henry VIII wanted a son – not to satisfy his male pride but because he dreaded a return to the chaos and slaughter of the previous century’s Wars of the Roses, and he believed that a strong King was the safeguard for national security. I’m sure he had his mistresses – as did most other medieval monarchs and the occasional pope or two – but to concentrate on that, (as the inclusion of your caricature subtly suggests,) or even on the rape and pillage of the monasteries, is to miss by miles what was his original and commendably stately motivation.

  • Baltimore Catechesis

    I also feel the Tudor wind blowing in some of the political acts we’ve seen lately.
    Worth noting in this review of the history is why Henry needed vast amounts of money to be supplied by the dissolution of the monasteries – prolonged and foolish military adventures in France, and the need to reward often fickle courtiers to maintain loyalty.

    A few years ago, I visited the town in Clare that my grandmother emigrated from. My relative showed me a cross high above the town. It was erected after Catholic Emancipation to mark the site of the “Mass Rock” a boulder located in the center of a field high on a hill that afforded a view of the countryside. During the Penal times, the people would gather there to hear Mass, while a careful watch was kept for English patrols.

  • Korou

    Can someone please let me know how the Catholic Church is being persecuted, and what persecution it is afraid of?

  • Wills

    Koru, if you are serious about this, there are many places to read about what’s happening. Simply put: the Catholic faith teaches a good many things that are being made unacceptable to believe and to put into practice (in other words, to act in conformity with those beliefs as a demonstration of them to the world at large, and to ourselves) in our modern day: sanctity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life, sinfulness of contraception and abortion (which gores the ox of the political left); the need to care for the poor within our borders regardless of how they got here, to avoid capital punishment and to avoid unjust war (which gores the ox of the political right). The persecution comes when participating in the greater society is made impossible unless one renounces some of these beliefs or can no longer act in conformity with them as our constitution guarantees (freedom of EXERCISE of religion, not of mere belief or worship, both of which are very different). For example: nurses and medical students and residents who object to abortion because of Catholic teaching be made to participate in them; Catholic landlords being forced to rent properties to cohabiting couples, Catholic churches found to be in violation of state anti-illegals laws that make it a crime to offer any aid to illegals (making it impossible for the Church to minister to them in accidence with its calling); and most recently–and the flash-point for the fortnight–Catholic institutions not only being forced to provide abortion and contraception coverage, which it views as inherently sinful, to employees through health insurance; but by the terms of the HHS mandate having their mission and their very existence defined by intrusive government terms that do not reflect the self-identity of the Church and ignore her history and place in society (defining religious organizations as only those made up only of believers and serving only believers). This is not being thrown to the lions in a physical sense but it has as the same basis: government trying to force Catholics to renounce their faith and embrace the values of the world because there is no tolerance for their religious outlook and behavior which challenges the wisdom of the day. Not particularly important to you I suspect but of vital, primal, essential, overriding, eternal significance to us. That is persecution. It is real, it is present and it is growing.

  • Joe

    So Steve, you would suggest that instead of the state mingling in and manipulating Church affairs, the Church should instead impose its belief paradigm on the state, since “religious liberty (aka error) is not a human right”? Isn’t the natural freedom to think whatever thoughts we wish demonstrative of the need to choose a belief system, and not have one chosen for us? After all, that’s why souls have to be “won” and wooed by grace, not manipulated and forced by church/state authorities. Your argument takes the same evil we accuse the state of and justifies it for church use. Pretty disgusting, dude.

  • Benjamin

    We are mainly in the “propaganda” phase of the persecution right now, the point of dehumanizing the enemy. Every time a Catholic priest is accused of something wrong he makes headline news, and the constant refrain is that the Catholic Church is full of pedophile priests. Right now, there is a huge push towards same-sex ‘marriage’ a “human right”, and part of this push is to label everyone who opposes this as an enemy of human rights. (the Catholic Church). The HHS mandate was surrounded by rhetoric that contraception is necessary for women’s health and so because the Church is refusing to pay for contraception, the Church is waging a “war on women.” The next phase is already coming, when the rhetoric is enforced with law, and anyone who refuses to comply with the law will be fined and forced out of business, churches included.

  • Wills

    To stabilize the monarchy was his intent, but he chose to do so in such a way that he broke with the Church and that is tragic. it was not his only choice though he may well have felt it was. His Defense of the Seven Sacraments is a passionate book about faith and in response to the Continental Schism. It’s always surprised me that someone who could write that could a few years later toss it all away, even for such a good purpose in the eyes of the world. Henry’s desire for stability was laudable, but not at the expense of obedience to the Church and the sacrifice of his faith. He had the same challenge we all do. I often wonder where the passion in my life is that will tempt me to break faith with the Church. I now it’s there, just not so much on public display as Henry’s. It’s one of the things the mandate issue brings up. Will I continue to support the Church when my donations are no longer tax deductible? Will I continue to purchase health insurance when it requires that I underwrite abortion coverage? Is there some other hidden challenge that I do not see? Henry stands as a cautionary tale. Life is about waking forward in faith and in the dark, sometimes, not about putting temporal goals above eternal teachings. Hard, hard to do…..even for a king.

  • Alice S.

    And what is the so-called president who calls himself a constitutional lawyer trying to do with EVERY piece of legislation that he invents? I am praying that this coming week is one for the history books in the USA.

  • Christian

    Probably the more sexual license there is, the less free society becomes in other areas:
    1. People can be bought off by gov’t enlarging the sphere of sexual indulgence.
    2. More rules are required to control the messes that result from a relative lack of sexual continence.

  • Jim J. McCrea

    The condemnation of religious liberty by popes was a condemnation of the spirit of indifferentism whereas differing views of existence were thought to be equivalent.

    “Error has no rights” is a statement that truth and error are not equivalent – that truth as truth is right and error as error is wrong.

    The Vatican II statement on religious liberty was not a reversal of that, because it spoke to a different issue. The right of religious liberty in that sense means that one cannot be brought to the Truth through coercion but it must be freely embraced (although one has the duty to seek the truth and embrace it when it is found).

  • Korou

    I don’t know, what is he trying to do?
    Trying to get something passed while the Republicans try to stop anything he proposes simply because he proposes it?

  • Joe

    So, for example, in a world where the Church is a much more powerful player politically, do the authorities decide when a person has NOT fulfilled their duty to seek truth and embrace it, and then punish them for it?

    We all know there will always be unbelievers, even in an openly Christian society. Bottom line is that grace converts, not societal trend or pressure (pressure just creates false and ‘cultural’ converts, which is what many historical Catholics have been). Punishing unbelievers seems awfully Islamic, and not very much like the patience we are to exhibit according to verses like “vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”

  • Joe

    What I’m trying to say is that “condemnation of religious liberty” seems to be a slippery slope that could lead to abuses and aggression on the part of zealous Church authorities. Even Jesus said there would be a day that people would put others to death thinking they were doing God a service. When James & John wanted to call fire down on unbelievers, Jesus told them they didn’t know what spirit they were of. It has been a difficult and hard road to separation of church and state, as Father’s article points out, and now we see the state trying to inch back into the church. As much as I don’t want that to happen, it’s equally bad for the church to mingle in state affairs (other than promoting justice and morality). He said His Kingdom is no part of this world.

  • Suzan

    It wasn’t a reformation, but a deformation.

  • Chris Forrester

    Could you kindly cite your authority for “It began with Henry VIII and his counsellors deciding that the church courts should not deal with cases of civil law”. From my understanding Canon Law Courts could only deal with cases involving tonsured clerics. The King’s Courts with all other cases. Hanry VIII at some stage removed the right of appeal for Canon Law Courts to the final judgment of the Pope as supreme legislator of Canon Law. Catholics of course had to use Church Courts for ecclesial matters such as annulments. That was Henry’s intention after his case for the nullity of his marriage to Catherine failed.
    Let me point out to you Thomas More used the Courts to prosecute heresy, burn heretical books, burn heretics and cut off their noses and ears and certainly he NEVER EVER believed in the Church and State being seperated in the sense you think. The Secualr Arm was second to the Church. What Henry did was use the power of the Monarchy to concentrate all power in himself. Rather than the two spheres of spirtual and temporal authority respecting eachothers authority. The King was spirtually under the authority of the Church as were all Christians. The bodies and material goods of subjects were under the king’s authority.
    In th USA it is different. The government seems to ignore the Church’s authority because of the babel and confusion causes by religious divisons and contradictions. That is why Catholics must use the ballot box en mass to bring the government to heal. On material matters the Church respects the authority of the State only when laws harmonise with the Church’s teaching.
    Thomas More died not for conscience, but truth. He knew it was not his duty to recklessly seek death. Rather his silence was meant to preserve his life and family. Obama is not wrong because he contradicts “religious freedom”. Rather because he and the government of the USA is going beyond its authority.

  • Kevin

    Fr. Dwight, I have to say I am less sanguine than you about the shape that the growing anti-Catholicism is taking. I see too much hatred and mendacity in the comboxes, the media, and –veiled in poll-tested language– in the halls of power. I hear too often from those who support “diversity” that those who speak and think differently need to have our rights curtailed for the good of all. How long can people be told that the Church is the devil before beginning to act on that?

  • Kevin

    I would also add that the violence has already begun. A year ago someone spray-painted Satanic graffiti over a church near me, while local law enforcement informed the public with a straight face that there was no indication that it was a hate crime. In my last workplace my coworkers conducted an ideological witch hunt in which individuals were approached and asked to express support for gay marriage, and the one dissenter (me) was subsequently marginalized. No, I do not believe that the anti-Christian bigots will be comfortably tolerant if and when their rule replaces the current fracturing pluralism.

  • Christian

    Not to imply that license = freedom.

  • Everett

    Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary Tudor, assumed the throne in 1553. During the last three years of her five-year reign, three-hundred men were burned at the stake for the heresy of Protestantism, including Henry’s former chancellor, 67 year-old Thomas Cranmer. “Error has no rights” was the justification for the inquistions, and it was reversed at Vatican II.