Catholicism Without a Pope – Does This Adequately Describe the Henrican Reformation?

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Catholicism Without a Pope – Does this adequately describe the Henrican Reformation?

Throughout the reign of Henry Tudor there were multiple changes made in respect of religion and as a result of this, religious divisions (which are still observable in England today) began to take hold. Henry was initially, and arguably, always a Catholic. However, he repeatedly made decisions which suggested a leaning towards Protestantism. At a time when radical religious ideas were spreading, England became ripe for change. Yet the changes that followed were not, as it could be assumed, the result of Henry's shifting beliefs. In fact, they were more a result of Henry's obsession with power and the impoverishment of his finances , alongside his need for a legitimate male heir. Due to his ambiguous and contradictory behaviour, the question as to whether Henry VIII was, at heart, truly a Catholic or Protestant will forever remain unanswered. As we will see, whether the Henrican Reformation was indeed, Catholicism without a Pope, is also a very difficult issue to resolve. On the face of it, Henry showed Protestant sympathies in various legislations and in his behaviour through, for example, the Act of Supremacy, 1534, and the dissolution of the monasteries respectively. However, Henry not only acted similarly towards Catholicism, through, for example the Six Articles, 1539, but also appears to have had alternative motives for these seeming moves towards Protestantism. In a process formally known as the English Reformation, the official religion of England was decided as Protestant. However it is important to reiterate that, although a subjective topic, this was not recognised until 1603 during the reign of Elizabeth I. Certainly England under Henry VIII witnessed religious change, hence the term the Henrican Reformation, yet all that was achieved was the initiation of a long period of reforms. Henry VIII did not set out to alter the religion of England, yet his self – benefiting actions made this inevitable. At this time the monarchy led the people and therefore it must be argued that England throughout the Henrican Reformation was neither protestant nor catholic.

First and foremost one must understand the reasons for which Henry separated with Rome. It was not his personal discontent with the nature of Catholicism and the role of the Pope, nor, an acute desire to reform the religion of England. It was much more to do with the failure of Henry and Wolsey's attempts to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. An annulment was needed as Catherine and Henry had only one child, a daughter, Mary, and it was becoming increasingly apparent that the ageing Queen was not likely to conceive again. Henry desperately needed a legitimate male heir to save the Tudor dynasty. To justify his position, Henry gave various reasons as to why an annulment was required, yet was not very wise in doing so. His main explanation (aside from the threat to the dynasty) was that his marriage was invalid; Catherine of Aragon was initially married to Prince Aurthur (Henry's brother) and, after his premature death, she was remarried to Henry through Pope Julius II. However, Leviticus 18:16 states directly against this - "do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife. " Henry concluded then that his marriage to Catherine opposed divine law and that the reason they had been so unsuccessful in conception and pregnancy was because, Henry believed, "sexual intercourse with a brother's widow was an unnatural act ". This move was unwise as, not only did it directly dispute and humiliate papal authority, but Catherine of Aragon was the Catholic Emperor Charles V's aunt. The Pope's decision therefore had to appease both parties and this was a task that would inevitably fail. After six years of hostility and the Pope's refusal to annul the King's marriage, parliament finalised the break with Rome. The Act Of...
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